A certain humility comes with being concretely reminded of our own mortality. Two weeks ago along with a group of friends, Second Opinion Society members, Hospice Yukon volunteers and Macauley Lodge staff I took my turn sitting along side the bed of a dying man.
At first I could tell him of goings and comings in the community, of a movie I saw or an article I had read. He would offer a word or two as he was able in response. Then as he failed just holding his hand, offering a soothing word, providing a straw full of liquid or a swap of his lips was all anyone could do for our friend.
This experience reminded me of my last visit with my father some 30 years ago now. A once robust, square shouldered man had been reduced by his diabetes and heart complications to a shadow of his former self. Blinded by his infirmity, unable to speak and paralyzed by a stroke, he had only one hand with which to communicate. I held it. At his bedside, I told him of my hopes and dreams. Sharing the plans that would soon take me half a planet away from his bedside whiled away an afternoon. When it came time to leave, as I said my goodbye, he squeezed my hand. I never saw him again.
Warranties expire. Mortgages are paid off. Children grow up. Things that we value will be broken, lost or forgotten. All things cease. What remains, ultimately and irrevocably, is love. But not the maudlin concept of it that confuses, even corrupts the notion and reduces it to just an effective marketing ploy to pump up consumerism at this time of year. No, the larger idea persists that offers us the possibility of uniting in a profound solidarity with others.
If we could excise the commercialized accretions to St. Valentine’s Day, Chinese New Year’s or even Mardi Gras we would find at their heart are the fundamentals; love, family and community. At those key life moments like birth and death we are dramatically challenged to refocus on our basic, common humanity. These times offer us a rare clarity too often obscured in the normal course of our lives by the rush of the everyday and the bombardment of exhortations that push us apart from one another. During them we may come to see again what is truly important.
The Beatitudes are the declarations or blessings of Jesus recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Though different in setting and wording they, as well, call their readers back to the basics. You have surely heard them; “Blessed are you who are poor … Blessed are you who are hungry…” and on.
As in the other great religious traditions of humanity the Beatitudes reverse the normally accepted prescription for the ‘good’ life. Power, prestige, wealth and material accumulation, the accepted norms to be aspired to give way before a spiritual manifesto with its emphasis on right relationships. These are no less important today. We could perhaps add to care for the poor, the hungry and the grieving along each other in our communities, local and global, care for the environment.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.