File this one under, “Thinking Out Loud.”
As years go 2011 has by all measures been a deeply challenging year for me. In the tragedy department, this year has been one that makes the law of averages work, making up for the many years of relatively smooth sailing. A recap and an analysis seem to be in order.
I’ve been to the funerals of five close friends this year; buried my Godmother and last surviving maternal aunt; traveled the road with my sixteen year-old niece who was left paralyzed from the waist down after a devastating accident in September; buried Kortney Blythe Gordon, her baby Sophy, and Jon Scharfenberger after the horrific accident that claimed their lives in October; two weeks later buried my brother-in-law, Joe Calo, who leaves behind fifteen and seventeen year-old daughters; and currently have my best friend, Father Steven Clark, recuperating from open heart surgery three weeks ago.
It’s been one year I hope never to repeat. Some might be tempted to curse God, or at least to question where He was when faced with this kind of year, and there are many who have faced a similar year, and many who have faced worse. The answer is not to curse God when we experience loss, but to redouble our praise and thanksgiving. That seems counterintuitive.
Great loss points to great blessing, which points to the loving providence of God. None of the great people in my life has been my doing, but God’s. They are like the threads of a tapestry which intersect my life for a time (some for a very long time) and then end. What the final image will look like is only God’s to know, but as I look at the many beautiful people who are no longer with us, I come to appreciate more and more God’s admonition that His grace is sufficient for me.
I think of the Apostles on the mount during the Transfiguration, how they never wanted to leave that place, that vision, that beauty. The Transfiguration was meant to be instrumental and not aesthetic. It was a foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven for the Apostles who would all (save one) be martyred as they brought the Gospel to the lost.
The beauty of our loved ones produces transfigurations in our own lives, and like the Apostles we can get fixed on the beauty of the moment and lose sight of the instrumentality that such beauty is meant to have in our lives.
We never want it to end. Given a choice between the foretaste of Heaven or the ultimate reality, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’d like to settle for the bird in the hand. It’s all that I’ve ever known. I suspect that God understands that pretty well. So, faced with the loss of such great beauty I reflexively thank God for blessing me with such beautiful family and friends, for all of the good in me that has come from their influence.
On the brighter side, my niece continues to slowly regain sensation and some movement in her legs. If Father Clark has had a rough surgery, I can’t escape the fact that when the surgeons went in, they found that he had huge blood clots in BOTH atria of his heart, and his continued presence is attributable to God alone.
I look at how Joseph is growing beautifully in Boy Scouts, how his social skills are growing there at an accelerated pace, how he is forming good bonds with other men who are excellent mentors and role models.
I look at the avalanche of trophies and awards all three of my children have earned in competitive bowling, how they are all developing as dancers.
Most of all for the children, they are growing in their faith, in their scholastics, and in their love for one another and their family.
And then there is Regina’s love.
Looking at the events of a year is ultimately a misleading exercise, as a year is nothing more than one revolution of our planet around a star. The focus needs to be on our lifetime, and the impact of God’s blessings over the course of that lifetime’s continuum.
When I do that, the sorrow of loss gives way to a whole new transfiguration.