Yesterday I received word a friend had died after a lifetime of acute and lingering illnesses. Her name was Karen.
Several years ago I had met Karen in a nursing home where she was recovering from a bought of pneumonia. She was in and out of hospitals and nursing homes three or four times during the period I knew her.
Karen had been in a specialized nursing care center for nearly a year undergoing treatment for an aggressive infection. The place was more than three hours away from Karen's home so her visits from friends and family were limited. I called her occasionally to try and cheer her.
I repeatedly told Karen, "God loves you more than you can imagine", stating the words slowly and pronounced, hoping she would remember and draw strength from them.
She would reply, "I know; I know". I heard yearning and resignation in her tone. She was neither alone in this world nor in her sufferings.
I had solicited prayers for Karen from a prayer partner. Just hours after learning myself about it, I told a the friend about Karen's departure. She said it is for the best.
I thought, "I do not know; I do not know". I wondered, how does she know it was Karen's time?
My prayer partner knew about Karen, but she did not know Karen personally. I feared she missed seeing the value in Karen's life, thinking only about the relief of Karen's suffering.
Suffering has value because it teaches us lessons we would not learn otherwise. But to learn these lessons we must look beyond the material aspect of life for the inner being.
DEATH AND DYING
It is said all things have a beginning and end. But what about the in-between?
I need to know that a life had meaning. Is that too much to expect?
A person is more than a single attribute. Even the sum of attributes is less than their exponential relationship. What attributes defined Karen and gave her life meaning?
Karen taught me courage. She died at age 61, prevailing against paralysis to her legs resulting from an accident in her youth. She was confined to a motorized wheelchair, yet she lived in her own home and even drove a modified van.
Karen taught me endurance. She suffered from multiple illnesses typical for those with spinal injuries. To the credit of her family, health care providers, and her own will, she maintained a positive outlook and fought to survive.
Karen taught me devotion. She loved her mother. Her mother gave Karen's life a particular purpose. Karen sought the welfare and comfort of her mother who is suffering the onset of age-related memory problems. Karen took joy in shopping and cooking for her aged mother.
Karen taught me dignity. She was neither married nor had children, yet Karen always took time to make her appearance presentable. She primped her hair, applied her make-up, and made sure her clothes were clean clean and pressed.
"Courage, endurance, devotion, dignity . . ." These concepts are defined by our experiences. We need a point of reference, so we say, "Courage is like . . . Karen. She . . ."
We need to suffer; life would be incomplete without the experience of suffering. Suffering is merely a contrast consistent with the growth of the soul and character.
No persons like Karen should die without an acknowledgment of their achievements.
I AND THOU
History is personal and corporate. History is his-story. All persons have a story of their lives. Nations have a story. The difference is degree.
A life story whether that of the individual or the nation is incomplete without accounting the inner dimension. Historians are story tellers. Their task is compounded by the need to understand the motivations of human nature:
The true causes [of history] are hidden -- for they [are] spiritual.
In proportion as an historical matter is of import to human kind, in that proportion does it spring not from apparent -- let alone material -- causes, but from some hidden revolution in the human spirit. To pretend an examination of the secret springs whence the human mind is fed is futile. The greater the affair, the more directly does it proceed from unseen sources which the theologian may catalogue, the poet see in vision, the philosopher explain, but with which positive external history cannot deal, and which the mere historian cannot handle. It is the function of history to present the outward thing, as a witness might have seen it, and to show the reader as much as a spectator could have seen --illuminated indeed by a knowledge of the past -- and a judgment drawn from known succeeding events. The historian answers the question, 'What was?' this or that. To the question, 'Why was it?' if it be in the spiritual order (as are all major things), the reader must attempt his own reply based upon other aptitudes than those of historic science.*
Only so far as the historian discovers and articulates the motivational forces prompting persons and nations will he succeed in telling a true and full history.
Suffering is one aspect of the plethora of unseen motivations. Like with Karen, suffering can bring out the nobler features of character in a nation with the will to survive.
Neither persons nor nations should fall leaving unlearned the lessons for their being. The deeper lessons are unseen, though real and motivational.
God bless you Karen in your after-journey.
* Belloc Hilaire. "Europe and the Faith" (1921), pp. 207, 208.