For most of us, this week has been a whirlwind . For those who knew M. who died last Sunday this is especially true.
When I was asked to do this reflection, I wanted to share something about community, a word that has a lot of currency for us. I was thinking of tying this idea to the Swahili word ubuntu which means “I am because we are” as that really is an apt expression for community. I still want to do that sometime, but today it is better to talk in ways that are more personal than abstract.
I want to tell you of one instance where the idea of community was not so much talked about but experienced. But first I want to share with you the opening lines from the 1993 German religious fantasy film by Wim Wenders’ “Faraway So Close.”
You…. You, whom we love….You do not see us….You do not hear us….You imagine us in the far distance…..Yet we are so near.
We are the messengers…..Who bring closeness to those who are distant.
We are the messengers….Who bring the light to those who are in darkness.
We are the messengers…..Who bring the word to those who question
We are neither the light nor the message
We are the messengers
We are nothing
But You, You are something.
You are everything
The reason I share this is that for those we serve, we must certainly seem like Wenders’ angels who he calls messengers. For these we are often the ones that bring joy and light to their lives, but at the same time we must maintain that certain amount of distance that our profession demands and at times we must seem very distant to our clients. Yet like Wenders divine operatives who know it is wrong to totally distance themselves from the world of people we know the same is true in the lives of our clients. I will share with you now a small story where the distance was very small indeed.
A week ago today as Institute Day was winding down I found out the planned for party for M. was not to occur as she was nearing the close of her life. So I walked over to the McAuley Home to see her. It was one of those slow walks that you remember because you really do not know what you will do when you arrive at your destination. As I walked into the building and was met by Maripat and Denise and Sharon whose faint smiles, hugs and words like “how are you doing?” I knew I did not worry about what I should do or say, because I knew at that moment I was in a good place for I was at Misericordia and Misericordia is a good and beautiful place. I walked up to M’s room and I saw her surrounded by Angelica, Tammie, Ashley, Helen, Jo, Jess, and Trina. Yes I was in a good place. I found myself in the company of those who could hold M’s hands, recount the stories of her life and laugh and cry with her. I think this must have been comforting to M. and I think it made her death easier for her. Of course with my near medieval view of how I should behave in a room full of women I told myself I would not cry. When I related this to Maripat, she said, “Chuck you and I both now that is bs.” Only she did not say bs. But I held my ground. I kept my dry eyes. At least I did so until we all clasped hands holding a small purple prayer shawl and prayed over Maria’s frail body.
I felt like one of the angels in “Faraway So Close.” They loved people so much and constantly found it so hard not to take humanity up in their arms, but it was a place they were not allowed to be in. And those of us in the room, if only we had the power to help M. we would, but like the angels we know that we don’t get to have that. We don’t get to decide the close of the life. M’s life after all was not our possession.
It was two days later M. came into that presence that would reveal to her what real angels are like. And lets face it we may be a little like angels but not really, neither the real ones or the movie ones. Angels must have all the answers to those big questions posed by death and lets be honest none of us have that.
We do get to have one thing that angels do not get, however. We get to have each other.
That is what being a community is about. We get to have each other and I know all of us get to see that so often in this place.
When M. had her funeral mass the New Testament reading was the famous love passage from I Corinthians. Father Jack said it may be unusual to select a passage that most of us think of as something for weddings to be said at a funeral, but the more I thought about his words about how loved M. was, the passage made perfect sense. She was and is a huge part of Misericordia and our story here is really the story of how we get to have each other, meaning in the simplest of terms our story here is a love story.
Toward the conclusion of Faraway So Close the angel Damiel repeats again the task of the messenger when he says, “we are not the message, we are messengers, the message is love.” In that way we are not so much angels as the creature that angels envy for we may not always be the messengers but we are always entitled to the message and yes the message is Love.
Now I will ask that you either join me as I pray or if your faith or philosophical convictions are elsewhere think of a part of your life where you have known love.
Teach us to love each other, to hold and take care of another. Help us to be faraway from evil and hurtful things and close to that which is good and affirming. Grant that we know your presence always among us and that as we leave here today that we find rest and reprieve so that when we return we are able to do your work in this place. This we pray through Christ, our Lord.
Image: Courtesy GraceKelley CC license