Retiring the Idea of Waiting for Retirement

When I was in high school, a family friend of ours died quite suddenly and unexpectedly in her mid-50s. She was the mother of a close friend of mine and our moms had been good friends throughout our whole lives.

This woman was very devoted to her family and to her work. She seemed to do everything in order. And yet, she was also someone who seemed to always be waiting for retirement to do several of the things she longed to do most.

She would often say, “When I retire…” and express her hopes and dreams for what she would do with greater leisure, time, and money.

It was striking, then, when she died relatively young because one of the things that hit me most as a high schooler was that she was never going to do these things she had put off.

Continue reading

Encountering St. Camillus

Five years ago, I was attending a cool Thomistic seminar in Norcia after which there was an optional trip to Rome.

Flashback to earlier that summer when I had been in America at the Hildebrand Project learning from and conversing with Italian statesman and professor Rocco Buttiglione.

As we sat outdoors, he memorably told me the story of St. Camillus de Lellis about whom I don’t remember having ever heard before.

Professor Buttiglione and I had been discussing end-of-life care when he began to speak to me about this saint who, almost 500 years ago, founded the Servants of the Sick.

Given my interest in these topics, I was happy to encounter the story of this saint in conversation.

Continue reading

Making space for marking loss

Eleven years ago today, I was in Berlin embarking on the 10-day March of Remembrance and Hope Holocaust study trip with sixty Canadian students and two survivors.

It is not an exaggeration to say that there has not been a day of my life since that trip that I have not recalled it in some way.

Contending with morality and mortality as a young adult through this trip remains among the most formative and orienting experiences of my life.

One of the first sites we visited is pictured below. As we stood there, we weren’t quite sure what we were meant to see. But gradually, with the help of our guide, this memorial came to life for us.

Continue reading

Marking Time: Do you remember where you were when… ?

“So teach us to number our days
that we may gain a wise heart.”
– Psalm 90:12

I remember seeing the news of Palm Sunday church bombings in Egypt on my phone while I was in Poland.

I had not been to Egypt before but of course the photos gripped me.

That was a year that the Western and Orthodox calendars synced up and so Christians worldwide were commemorating on the same day Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem before his Passion.

That suicide bombers charged into two Alexandria churches on this date and in this way indicates that their intent was to wreak not only destruction but desecration.

What was the impact of looking at the those photos on my phone in a small Polish church?

Continue reading

“Your listening is medicine for me.”

Tomorrow, April 7th, is Genocide against the Tutsi Memorial Day.

Nine years ago, I participated in the Reflections on Rwanda program to study this genocide, especially through encountering rescuers and survivors and listening to their stories.

Some of my family and friends were not sure why I wanted to go on a genocide study a trip.

I even met a professor (of Genocide Studies, no less) who described travelling to the sites of historical genocides as voyeurism.

Continue reading

Cemeteries As Colourful As Life

In December 2019, I was strolling through the Cemetery at Santa Maria Huatulco.

It struck me how colourful the Mexican cemetery is, and I noticed that the cemeteries are as colourful as the rest of the community. Take a look at these images:

Probably this cemetery in Mexico is the most vibrantly colourful cemetery I have visited to date.

This serves to make the cemetery as attractive and inviting and as other parts of town.

I often reflect on why it is that our hospitals in Canada are so drab. Only the Children’s Hospitals, if any, seem to be bright and colourful. Most of the time, they live up to what you imagine when you hear the word “clinical.”

What does it say about a culture when the hospitals and cemeteries are colourful and when they are not?

Do you think it’s appropriate or worthwhile for such places to be colourful? Why or why not?

The Tombstone With Three Dates

One site I love to visit in Israel is David and Paula Ben Gurion’s tombs in the Negev.

Sitting with a group along some stone steps as we looked toward the tombs, our guide said, “The inscription on David Ben-Gurion’s tombstone has three dates on it – the date he was born, the date he died, and the date he made aliyah [immigrated to Israel]. Why does it have the date he made aliyah?”

Our guide was serious about prompting our reflection and gave many members of our group the chance to surmise. After everyone had had the opportunity to offer their interpretations, our guide offered his own:

Aliyah was the first step. It was the decisive turning point in the drama of his life. It was the decision he made that significantly impacted and made possible all the others. What will your first step be?” he asked, as we sat for a few moments of quiet reflection in that desert shade.

And so, I’ll now ask you: What might the extra date be on your tombstone?

Hospice Nurse: “I’ve always wanted to help people by making them feel better”

My aunt Danielle Hall (on the right) is a dual citizen who was born in Calgary and now lives and works as a hospice nurse in Chicago.

She traces her interest in working with the dying to when she was just five years old.

“I think how it started, when I reflect back, is that since my mother would often get headaches, she taught me how to rub her head to relieve them,” Danielle reminisced. “My mom would lay on the couch and I would stand behind her, rubbing her head with my fingers in circles around her forehead, and that’s when I first realized that I had a healing touch.”

Continue reading

You-Are-There-Reading At A Grave

In Anne Fadiman’s book Ex Libris, she has a chapter in which she explores the delights of what she calls You-Are-There-Reading experiences.

I’ve never equaled the sensory verisimilitude of my friend Adam, who once read the ninth book of the Odyssey, in Greek, in what is believed to be the Cyclops’s cave, a Sicilian grotto Homerically redolent of sheep turds. But I have read Yeats in Sligo, Isak Dinesen in Kenya, and John Muir in the Sierras. By far my finest You Are There hour, however, was spent reading the journals of John Wesley Powell, the one-armed Civil War veteran who led the first expedition down the Colorado River, while I was camped at Granite Rapids in the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Ever since reading this, I have sought out my own You-Are-There-Reading experiences around the world. Naturally, some of these experiences have been at gravesites. There is nothing quite like reading poetry or correspondence aloud at a grave.

Continue reading