Before I arrived to be pastor, I heard that Visitation community grieved the deaths of several prominent parishioners, including Fr. Brelsford. This wound in the heart of the parish was made clear to me when I came, for one of the first things I was told – and still continue to hear – was, “Don’t die.” I would respond rather lightly, “I have no such plans.” Well, over the last few weeks, I have had a few health issues, and more than a few of you have been emailing / texting /calling / talking to me after mass about what was / is happening to me. So, sensitive to the parish’ recent history, let me briefly say that I am doing fine. My knee has lost all cartilage and meniscus, so it will be replaced in late July. Also, I somehow developed Kidney stones – no walk in the park! – which are resisting ultrasound treatments so far, and just are not passing. But the real issue happened last Monday early in the morning when I developed acute pericarditis, (which was quickly treated and I am doing fine). I went to Marina Hospital, with what I thought was terrible heartburn or indigestion. They diagnosed a possible heart attack, and sprang into action. While doctors and paramedics swirled about me hooking up machines, inserting IV drips, the EKG and defibrillator pads (and believe me, when I saw that, I almost DID have a heart attack!), racing though the streets of Westwood with sirens blaring, and wondering if I was about to die or not, here is what I learned. It’s nothing new. They are things we all know. So obvious as to be almost mundane.
1) Pain and the fear it generates can become all-consuming. It can become the totality of our life, all that we see and feel, and blind us to the love and care and even suffering of those about us. I have met a few people who even though they are hurting badly, can still look though their pain and see the needs of those about them and minister to them. I’ve decided that I want to try to be one of those people. Not a hero; no chance of that. I cry with paper cuts! But I don’t want pain or suffering to blind me to neighbor-need.
2) It’s terrible to be alone. Bouncing around in the back of that ambulance, alone in the ER, no one with me. It was terrible. And then a friend appeared out of nowhere, unexpectedly, and sat with me for a few hours. It gave me life. I have to ask myself every day if there is somebody in my life that is all alone that I can go sit with.
3) “Every day has something in it whose name is Forever” – Mary Oliver
All of us know what a treasure life is. All of us know that today could be our last. All of us know that we sometimes waste the precious time we have. All of us swear, in moments of crisis, that we will change, will cherish the day, the spouse, the child as never before. And all of us slide back into old habits. So instead of making oaths that I might / will forget, I will put the word “Forever” on my bathroom mirror and begin each morning preparing myself to look within the day for something or someone whose name is Forever.
PS I also learned how much I love Visitation, love being back here with you, loved seeing you all on Sunday, loved being loved. Thank you!
PPS I also learned that the nuns were wrong. They taught me that it is possible but very, very difficult to make a PERFECT act of contrition for the remission of all sins in the absence of a priest while in danger of death. It’s not hard at all. I made about 2 or 3 of them in the back of the ambulance!