On two distinct occasions this past week, I have heard references to a Jewish text (the source of which is still a bit unclear to me) that presents a striking image juxtaposing how we enter the world and how we leave it.
Here’s the excerpt:
All those coming to this world, come in crying and depart the world crying. They come in voices and depart with voices. They arrive from secretion and decay and return to secretion and decay. They come in from darkness and return to darkness. They arrive from within towards the outside and when they depart it is also from one place towards the outside. They come from a place where no living being can see to a place that no one will ever see. They come from a place of impurity and return to a place of impurity. They come naked and depart naked. And so Job said: naked have I come from the womb of my mother and naked will I come back there. But they come with hand clenched together but depart with open hands as a newborn baby always comes to this world with his fist closed as if to say, all this world is for me to take possession, but when one dies, his hands are always open as if to say: I have nothing in this world. They arrive with kindness and compassion and depart with kindness and compassion. They arrive with no desire of their own and depart with no desire of their own. They come because of love and they depart with love.
What a beautiful meditation on the journey of life.
May all our lives be an opening of our hands and hearts in generosity until we return to God in love.
Pope Francis has a lot of countercultural recommendations and one upon which I came the other day is to remember the times that we have suffered most.
Usually, we want to forget the times we’ve suffered. Maybe we consoled ourselves in the midst of some trial saying, “This too shall pass.” And, once it has passed, we’re happy to move on from it.
But Pope Francis says, “I believe that in this time of the pandemic it is good for us to remember even of the times we have suffered the most: not to make us sad, but so as not to forget, and to guide us in our choices in the light of a very recent past.”
Today a friend of mine sent me a text with Ed Sheeran’s new-ish song “Visiting Hours” because, as she noted in her caption accompanying the video, it’s “On Mortality.”
I’ve listened to the song several times today, including watching the video of its premiere on the occasion of the state memorial for Michael Gudinski in whose memory Sheeran wrote the song in tribute.
In addition to being incredibly talented, there are other reasons why this song at this time is topping charts and resonating worldwide with the global population that has endured the pandemic – paradoxically, collectively and in isolation.
The first line begins, “I wish that Heaven had visiting hours…”
If there was any doubt that people could connect with such a paradisiacal lyric before the pandemic, the doubt has been resolved. The past two years, we have realized that we wish for our world to have visiting hours, too.
The other day, a friend of mine shared this extraordinary quotation by one of my heroes – Fr. Alfred Delp:
A community that gets rid of someone—a community that is allowed to, and can, and wants to get rid of someone when he no longer is able to run around as the same attractive or useful member—has thoroughly misunderstood itself. Even if all of a person’s organs have given out, and he no longer can speak for himself, he nevertheless remains a human being. Moreover, to those who live around him, he remains an ongoing appeal to their inner nobility, to their inner capacity to love, and to their sacrificial strength. Take away people’s capacity to care for their sick and to heal them, and you make the human being into a predator, an egotistical predator that really only thinks of his own nice existence.
Fr. Delp was a German Jesuit and those words were his response upon viewing a 1941 Nazi propaganda film.
Who, in our lives, is appealing to our inner nobility?
Who is drawing us out of ourselves and our “own nice existence”?
To whom do we let ourselves to explode our inner capacity to love?
For whom do we let our sacrificial strength be tested?
These may not be the most natural questions to ask ourselves, which is why luminaries like Fr. Delp are so important.
Photo: My mom visiting her brother-in-law’s mother Mrs. Hall. My mom’s care for Mrs. Hall in her final years is one example among many of my mom’s inner nobility and sacrificial strength.
The other day a friend of mine shared this profound aphorism from Nicolás Gómez Dávila which says:
Death is the unequivocal sign of our dependence. Our dependence is the unequivocal foundation of our hope.
In 1993, a Canadian Supreme Court judge included the following statement in his decision: “Although palliative care may be available to ease the pain and other physical discomfort which she will experience, the appellant fears the sedating effects of such drugs and argues, in any event, that they will not prevent the psychological and emotional distress which will result from being in a situation of utter dependence and loss of dignity.”
Here “utter dependence” is conflated with a “loss of dignity”, not the foundation of our hope.
Recently a friend of mine said something to me that was an epiphany. She reflected, “I don’t know anything about suffering being redemptive without others’ suffering being open to me.”
This immediately struck a chord and resonated within me profoundly.
Sometimes we need a friend to speak the truths we’ve known all along with the credibility of living witness.
In Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict XVI explains the way in which suffering that is shared becomes transformed:
Indeed, to accept the “other” who suffers, means that I take up his suffering in such a way that it becomes mine also. Because it has now become a shared suffering, though, in which another person is present, this suffering is penetrated by the light of love. The Latin word con-solatio, “consolation”, expresses this beautifully. It suggests being with the other in his solitude, so that it ceases to be solitude.
Something else that comes to mind in thinking about this is the line from the Anima Christi prayer which says: “Within your wounds hide me.”
What is it to be hidden within another’s wounds?
How can a loved one’s wounds actually be a shelter for us?
Have we considered the ways in which a wound creates the actual space for greater openness and depth?
Without attempting to justify any evil, hurt, or injustice, how can revealing our woundedness to others create the hospitality in us for others in their woundedness such that “suffering is penetrated by the light of love”?
The motto caught her attention, and I can see why.
The dead are not the only ones who deserve to be treated with reverence, of course. For the living, too, this is their due. Yet, if you went to a restaurant that advertised “We serve with reverence”, you might think that’s a bit much.
This, however, shows my point that how we die (and how we naturally conduct ourselves before the mystery of death) has the power to humanize our culture.