This year has been full of endings. I graduated from high school and my youth group, and many of my friends left for college. My adventure with RCIA ended, and more friends disappeared into the ether, probably never to be seen again. My favorite pants got torn, and I had to throw them away (all you girls with extreme hourglass shapes will see why the loss of well-fitting pants is a tragedy!)
But back to seriousness, this year seems to just be marked with death. First, a close friend lost her sister in a freak accident. Then, my own sister attempted suicide, and I spent several terrible hours not knowing if she was alive or dead. In June, my mom miscarried a younger brother or sister that I never got to meet. Lastly, and this death affected me the most, an old family friend, Anne Schmidt, succumbed to breast cancer. She’s the one who really inspired this post, and so I’m dedicating all these words to her.
Anne was one of those people who just seemed to breathe holiness. With a face that never seemed to have any expression but an affectionate smile, she was a woman who was full of joy and love for everyone, and when you were with her, you got the feeling that she really saw you. When she sang in her parish choir, her voice sang every note tinged with the melody of heaven. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting next to her in the choir room at mass, when she would let me sing with her. She was one of the only people who was never content to let me stay in the shadow of my older sister, who has a marvelous and room-quaking voice. Anne always encouraged me to sing my best, not thinking about how good my sister sounded, and I’ve loved to sing ever since. Anne loved God, loved her family, and loved the people around her. She was always full of joyful peace, even on the last time I saw her, when she told my mother and me that her cancer, beaten once before, had returned. She never seemed that afraid. She was a woman who had faith in God’s love and God’s will.
Here at Surrender the Brownies, we’re all about trust and faith, but that kind of complete trust shocked even me. For years now, since my diagnosis, I’ve been scared and hurt about my own death. A friend joked about it, and I snapped at him. I couldn’t help it; the idea of a diminished life expectancy scares me. Heck, the idea of death scares all of us, and we spend a lot of time doing everything we can to stave it off, to buy a few more years to do whatever it is we think we need to do. We don’t like the idea of a concrete deadline for the completion of whatever it is our purpose in life is. I’ve been spending months now thinking about death, thinking about writing this post, praying for answers, and I think I understand death a little better now. Or at least, I understand one thing… we’re not supposed to be scared of it, and we have the power not to be.
Why shouldn’t we be afraid? Because… it’s a good thing. We shouldn’t be afraid of death. Ultimately, it’s what we’re made to do, the grand imperative that we’re all programmed for. We are born to die. And to say that isn’t morbid or morose, it’s actually the most hopeful, joyful thing I could write.
Let’s talk for a second about love. In parts one and two of this series, I’ve talked about how perfect love casts out fear (all inspired by 1 John 4:18.) God, being perfect love, is the antithesis of fear. And God made us to die. Yes, in the Fall, we brought terror and pain into the equation, but God always intended our earthly lives to end. Even Mary, who never suffered the effects of Original Sin, had to die. My friends, we are scared of death because we don’t really know God anymore. We’ve cut ourselves off from that source of perfect, fear-destroying love, so naturally, we’re scared of death.
But look to the people who have let themselves love and be loved by God. Look to the peaceful attitude of Saint Damien of Molokai, who, when he learned that he had contracted leprosy from the people he had ministered to for sixteen years, said “Having no doubts about the true nature of the disease, I am calm, resigned, and very happy in the midst of my people. God certainly knows what is best for my sanctification and I gladly repeat: ‘Thy will be done.” The man was going to be covered in sores, slowly lose his human appearance, become something ugly and terrible. He should have been terrified! He should have been angry at God for afflicting him with the disease! But he trusted God completely. He was happy, for Pete’s sake! He saw his descent into death as what it truly was: something natural and necessary for his salvation, a sign of love from God. And that’s a hallmark of sainthood. Saint after saint has said the same thing; that death is something we should think about daily, something we should have no fear about, something we should peacefully welcome. If that’s something that the holiest of people have agreed on, then do you think that maybe, just maybe, they’re right?
I’ve wasted a lot of time being scared and stressed in my life. (I’ve probably also wasted a lot of time thinking about why we’re scared of death, too, but since you’re all getting this lovely post out of it, you can’t complain.) I’ve gotten way too worked up about things that don’t matter, and that includes death. But this year, 2014, is the year that that ended. Here, at the end of the year, I’ve realized something… that after looking death in the face several times, a lot of small and petty annoyances don’t matter. If even the most terrifying thing we humans deal with is harmless, what are the annoying friends and small pains of everyday life? If I really love God, as I’m trying to do, I shouldn’t be worried about anything else. Like St. Damien, like Anne Schmidt, I should be able to joyfully accept everything God decides to send my way. Why be scared of the things of this world? This isn’t our home. We’re just passing through. As one of my favorite songs says, when we’re confronted with the sorrows and pains of life on earth, we should say, “all I know is I’m not home yet, this is not where I belong.” And to get where we belong, we need to die. So stop running. Stop with the injections, the crazy exercise regimens, stop with the kale (unless you really like kale, in which case, you keep eating kale, because life is for living!)
Friends, love. The only way to stop being scared and stressed about everything in life is to love God, to let Him love you, and to share that love with your neighbor.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)
Love to all!