A week ago, when I was at Sunday Mass and I heard his name read among the recently deceased, something inside me gave way and I started to cry. And then I couldn’t stop.
It was just before the Eucharist, and we were praying for lots of people, but I was stuck, focused on the fact that my neighbor was gone from this earth, reunited in heaven with his lovely wife who passed on almost two years ago. They were older people – had six children who were now grandparents themselves. This is the way life is supposed to play out. And I didn’t know them well. Yet I was so very, very emotional. Why?
Standing there, staring at the church rafters and reciting the Lord’s Prayer, I asked Him, “Why am I so upset? Why can’t I stop crying? I’m happy for them. Why does this hurt?”
From somewhere inside, His answer came:
You love life. He loves life. They love life.
I knew from experience that walking in faith means living with ambiguity, and that in time, hopefully, what I’d heard would make more sense to me. So I proceeded to do what seemed right.
I’d seen more cars than usual outside Mr. and Mrs. Schab’s home in the previous three days, and now I knew why. After lunch, I wrote a condolence note, collected myself, and walked over.
A white-haired woman in her sixties who bore a strikingly beautiful resemblance to her late mother welcomed me warmly at the door. My tears began to return the moment I said,
“I was just at the 11:00 Mass and I heard the news.”
She said, “Yes. He was my dad. He passed a week ago yesterday.”
Oh, I thought. We were away. That’s why I didn’t know.
She added, “The day before his 99th birthday. So, he got to celebrate it in heaven.”
Any idea I had of consoling her went out the window.
I stammered, barely able to see now, “And I miss your mom.”
She smiled slightly and looked down saying, “Oh, we do too.”
The next thing I knew, she was opening the screen door wide to hug me and kiss me on the cheek.
Then she said, “What is your name?”
Oh boy. I guess grief is like that. You forget to say your name.
I told her. “Gretchen.” And we went from there. The ten minutes or so we spent getting to know one another reminded me of what I had loved so much about her parents.
From the moment she laid eyes on me at the door, she appreciated me. Not for what I wanted to give her (or thought I could give her, and others who were there), but because she saw my mere presence as a positive in her life. And I remembered right away that her sister had once greeted me at the door of this very same house with an identical warmth and generosity of spirit when I came to visit Mr. and Mrs. Schab, who of course, had been the genesis of the love these two women showed me. Or were they?
The first time I ever met Mr. and Mrs. Schab was Halloween. I think my oldest son (now 12), was 4. Instead of just handing out candy, they invited trick-or-treaters and their parents in for refreshments and conversation while offering a spread of treats from the dining room table, located just inside the front door. Maybe it was the glow of the antique lamps shining out from the bay window that made the house so welcoming on approach, or perhaps it was Mrs. Schab’s cheery, “Hellooooo! Please! Come in! Aren’t you adorable?” that made my son and I feel cherished. But from that memorable evening on, their home was, by far, our favorite on the block.
Later, I wasn’t surprised to learn that the Schabs were the founders of our church’s marriage preparation program, and over many decades had helped to counsel over 1,000 couples. It was easy to imagine them sharing their experiences, faith, joy, and time with men and women embarking on the road they had been journeying together – one which would culminate in 72 years of devotion. They also served on numerous community committees and stayed active outside of their home right up until the very end of their lives. They were humble, gracious, energetic servants.
But my personal memories of Mr. and Mrs. Schab – time talking in their garden, their gratitude for my cookies, how I loved hearing their stories of how our neighborhood changed over six decades – all of these are grounded in a feeling of us being “present together.” When I was with them, even though I didn’t know them well, time seemed to stand still, because in each moment, they were focused only on what was essential – living the moment. Not the next moment. Or the one after that.
After a week’s reflection, I think I understand what the Lord was trying to tell me as tears streamed down my face last Sunday….
When you really fall in love with Life, so much so that you see the divinity of it in every single person you meet, you can truly stop – right now – to appreciate the wonder and beauty of it all, and share deeply and effortlessly of the Love you are living. And the Love comes through you, to make the people with you feel cherished. You can give those around you a glimpse of eternity.
When we love the Maker of Life, we are given all we need to live this life in all the fullness He intended for us.
The key to living life in full, is following the Way of Life, and basking in His Love.
Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep….
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
– John 10:7, 10