Wednesday, February 25, 2015

How best should we spend our remaining moments?

A few weeks ago, we were on our way to Mass at St. Elizabeth in Lubbock, a few blocks east of the Texas Tech campus. For whatever reason I cannot remember, we were running late and as we approached one of the side streets down which we would drive to the church, we noticed that the line to get to that street from the left turn lane was backed up. Later it became obvious that the 12-14 car snag was due to a non-working turn signal. Drivers inched their cars across University Blvd. one, maybe two at a time. It seemed to be taking an eternity.
I grumbled and whined to myself and to Karen. Our son, in the car ahead of us with his girlfriend, didn’t hear my displeasure at his decision to take this route. Thank goodness.

Somehow, we made it to the Mass during the opening procession. We searched the mostly-full church. Finding a place to sit is not easy at a 5 o’clock Sunday Mass in a college town.
We finally eyeballed a pew for four, and we settled in just in time for the opening prayer. A two-year-old girl in front of us began to cough and sneeze, blowing her germs on us like a priest sprinkling holy water. We watched as something differently colored dribbled and bubbled from her nose.

And I grumbled some more while looking for a safer more hygienic place to worship. I wondered how long it would be before we would come down with whatever she was spreading.

We made our way through the prayers, the Gloria, and the readings, and then the deacon at St. Elizabeth rose to deliver his homily. He opened with a couple of gentle, corny jokes about the prior weekend’s Super Bowl and then began his homily in earnest. He quoted not so much from Scripture to begin, but instead he pulled from the song “Everybody Hurts” by REM, a band once wildly popular among the college set.

“As many of you know,” the deacon continued, “I have been dealing with cancer which has, thankfully, been in remission.”

My attention was sufficiently grabbed, and slowly, the sick child and the defective turn light began to step out of my personal limelight. I have always been a sucker for a good rebound story and messages about making one’s way back amid the worst of circumstances.

And then came his bombshell.

“This week,” he said, “the doctor told me that my cancer is back. It is in my lungs and in my brain.”
I was struck not only by the man’s words and the honesty in his voice but by his countenance as he made his announcement. I’ve been searching since that day for the word that would best fit him as he delivered that news — “My cancer is back and it is in my lungs and my brain” — to both friends and strangers alike. Courage. Fearlessness. Perhaps those two sum it up better than most others.

There was not a trace of distress in his appearance; no alarm in his eyes, no crack in his voice or waver in his delivery. His message conveyed one of the bravest walks of faith I have heard of late. The man had accepted what lie ahead and it was clear that he would meet whatever the future brings head on, with the help of his faith and his Lord.

Certainly the other message that came through between the lines was this: enjoy every moment. You know not the hour or the day ...

A couple of weeks after the homily we heard in Lubbock, an unrelated post popped up on my parish’s Facebook page. It asked for urgent prayers. There was a clear note of desperation.

The message was posted late on the morning of Friday, February 13. It was written by a young woman whose husband had taken a turn for the worse in a brief illness he had been fighting for the last several days.

The parish community quickly rallied around him and his family with prayers and visits, but by 7:30 that night, a man who had been a friend to hundreds of people in many walks of life in Midland and elsewhere, was dead. He was a good, good man. A newlywed. A doting father. Thirty-two years old. He left a 9-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, a three-month-old son and a 26-year-old widow. The news of his passing was devastating to the community.

I will miss my friend, Caleb. But his passing is not for naught. He taught while he was here. He spread a message of joy, of faith, of family and of love. In his death, he taught us one other thing. Like the deacon in Lubbock, the message of loving others every possible moment you have, of never taking one more day as if you have ten-thousand more is a message we should hold on to. Too often, though, our lives return to status quo before we even return to our work or our homes -- even after a friend’s funeral. News like the return of cancer to a total stranger and the reality of the death of a friend should make us all look at life with more respect -- and not just during the time we mourn at a funeral.

I am ashamed for becoming impatient while driving to Mass that day in Lubbock, and for growing irritated at a sick, innocent child in front of me. I have yet to discover why sweating the small stuff is so easy. What am I missing? Am I so surface that it takes death or illness to show me the way? If so, I owe apologies to the deacon and to my friend.

I recently listened to a TedTalk about happiness. In it, the presenter said that the best gifts God gives us are moments. If we have a bad moment, we’ll always have another one waiting just behind the present one. Moments, the speaker said, are free, and always there for us to make the most of.
Until one day they aren't.

How should we best spend the moments that remain? I know a deacon who knows. And I had a wise friend who made beautiful his every moment.

Lord, show me the way before it’s too late.

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