I’m Dying… What Does That Mean??

Every so often, there is a story that touches people so deeply, they share it with those around them. Which usually means that it’s in everyone’s Facebook feed or e-mail inbox and favorited on Pinterest and YouTube. This one is no exception. Today, it was the story of Zach Sobiech, a young man who died of osteosarcoma this weekend. But he lived amazingly, and that is what he will be remembered for. I watched the 22 minute long video of his story. And the music video to his song, “Clouds“. And the video that his friends and family made in response to his music video. They were beautiful.

I downloaded the song and played it over and over as I drove to church after work. It really made me cry.

It made me cry, because it made me think. I have a terminal illness. I have no idea how much longer I have to live. It’s not the dying that is upsetting, it’s the living. Am I living the way I ought? This young man clearly has touched thousands of people. What about me? Has my life “meant anything” to anyone?

What if it has not? What if I never really impacted anyone? What is it of me that will remain in people’s hearts after I am gone?

So, I cried.

I cried and I went into the church and I curled up on a bench in the Adoration space behind the tabernacle. I texted one of my best friends, “Do I make any difference?” I was grateful for the organ music being practiced in the church — this masked my sniffling and the way my breath catches as I try to hold the sobs in.

He texted me back, “Sounds like the evil one has your ear. The answer to your question is found by looking at a cross.”

OLGC Crucifix

Oh, the irony. I was sitting under a cross. Well, the church’s crucifix, to be precise, but that’s what he meant anyway.

I sat there, trying to understand. Trying to find the answer. What is it that he says about the cross? That you can know that you are loved because Jesus did *that* for *you*. That you are loved far more than you can ever imagine. That even if you were the only human on earth, He would still have become man and died for you. I have worth because I am made in the image and likeness of God.

This was helpful, but it wasn’t the main thrust of my upset. I know that God loves me, and that I have intrinsic dignity.

My crying let up, and I gave this all more thought. Why am I so upset? What is the problem?

I don’t think my life is making a difference or impacting anyone else.

Okay.

Which lead to another question:

Does this matter?

I thought back to my original question: Do I make any difference?

Difference to who? To God? Well, I guess in some ways, the answer to that is yes and no. I mean, God doesn’t *need* anyone. But for some reason, He wants me. He willed me into existence, sustains me here and invites me into relationship with Him. To other people? I guess this is the real question.

Do I make any difference? It’s more of a material question than an existential one. I want my life to somehow positively benefit others. Does it? How can I do this more?

Is this the right thing to want?

I think most people want greatness for their lives. They want to live heroically and with integrity. To be someone others can look up to. To be a saint. I don’t think most people look at their life and decide, “Hey, I want to be mediocre and average.” And it can be good — motivating — to have lofty goals and to set your standards high.

But…

Does this mean that if you do *not* make some material contribution to the good of others that you’ve “failed” at life? Let’s look at some extreme examples. What about people who were born without proper mental faculties for whatever reason, or children who have died very young or before birth. Were their lives less “important” than, say Mother Teresa’s? Of course not. While it’s true that Mother Teresa did amazing things and touched millions of lives, this doesn’t mean that others’ lives are of lesser value.

God doesn’t grade us according to our utility. We just tend to grade ourselves this way.

Another question: How much of my angst is due to my own pridefulness in wanting to Do Great Things and be recognized?

A good question.

After all, if my life in any way positively benefits someone else, it’s actually God’s doing, really, and not mine.

And why am I being all judging about how my life is impacting others’? Isn’t this somewhat of a mystery anyway? Isn’t this what is going to be revealed to us at the end of time when we receive our final judgment? Perhaps I have a greater impact than I know, and am being silly about being upset about it now.

As I was sitting there, praying and contemplating all these things, I heard Mass begin. What? Mass? At 7 pm on a Tuesday? I quickly checked the parish calendar and saw that there was a Men’s Fellowship Mass. Oh. Well, I’m not a man, so I don’t think that I can attend this Mass. “No girls allowed” and all that. But I didn’t want to leave. So I participated from the other side of the tabernacle.

It was kind of hard to hear, since the speakers weren’t set up for my location and there were odd echoes and things. But what I did hear felt like the Mass was just for me. The first reading was from Sirach 2:1-11, which is going to be one of my readings at my funeral services. It’s about knowing that there’s going to be a trial, and to persevere. The rest of Mass was kind of like this. I absorbed more of the spirit of it, rather than the verbatim of the readings and homily. There will be trials and temptations. Keep fighting. God is faithful. Things I really needed to hear.

This Mass was such a blessing. I felt much better. Not just emotionally, either.

I left for home after Mass. On the way out, I passed by the sacristy. Both of my priests were in there de-vesting. My friend was the one who had presided at Mass tonight. When he saw me, he said, “I just said Mass for you. Hang in there, kiddo.”

By the time I got home, everything was different. My worries were gone. Not only that, but it was like I had a reinvigoration of my prayer life and relationship with God, also. I could say that it’s my innate resiliency, or the fact that I finally realized that I was worrying over nothing. But I know what it really is.

Grace.

Thanks be to God.

Clouds
by Zach Sobiech

Well I fell down, down, down
Into this dark and lonely hole
There was no one there to care about me anymore
And I needed a way to climb and grab a hold of the edge
You were sitting there holding a rope

And we’ll go up, up, up
But I’ll fly a little higher
We’ll go up in the clouds because the view is a little nicer
Up here my dear
It won’t be long now, it won’t be long now

When I get back on land
Well I’ll never get my chance
Be ready to live and it’ll be ripped right out of my hands
Maybe someday we’ll take a little ride
We’ll go up, up, up and everything will be just fine

And we’ll go up, up, up
But I’ll fly a little higher
We’ll go up in the clouds because the view is a little nicer
Up here my dear

It won’t be long now, it won’t be long now
If only I had a little bit more time
If only I had a little bit more time with you

We could go up, up, up
And take that little ride
And sit there holding hands
And everything would be just right
And maybe someday I’ll see you again
We’ll float up in the clouds and we’ll never see the end

And we’ll go up, up, up
But I’ll fly a little higher
We’ll go up in the clouds because the view is a little nicer
Up here my dear
It won’t be long now, it won’t be long now

On Death and Rollercoasters

Skyhawk - DSCN9430

Cedar Point was fun. I love rollercoasters. Ironically, I’m also scared of both heights and falling. And I am part-Houdini in the fact that no matter how tight people strap me down, I end up being able to wiggle out of the restraints. So while everyone else is waving their hands in the air, I am — as Damien points out — putting claw marks in the grab bar … and laughing. 🙂 And I didn’t get a good reply to this in confession: if I am standing before some monstrosity of a fear-inducing ride that my friend are bent on torturing me with, is it taking the Lord’s name in vain to say “Oh Dear God!” when you follow that up with “Please help me not die on that thing!” and a few Hail Marys??

Erwin and Rob on Dragster - DSCN9394

When thinking of my experiences with these rollercoasters, it always seems to follow the same formula. I look at one of them and am not sure about it. As I stand in line and contemplate it further, I get anxious and don’t think that I can handle it. I pray my way through this and end up making myself go despite my fear and try to trust that God would not allow me to be the one person to die at Cedar Point that day (despite the fact that I’ve always felt that I would die on some freak rollercoaster accident… LOL). Then, I end up having a lot of fun and realize that my fears were silly. (Or maybe not “silly,” after all, as a kid, I’ve been on several rollercoasters and rides where the restraints have had mechanical failures and I’ve had to wrap myself around the grab bars to keep from falling out of the ride. That’s gotta induce some long-term trauma or something….) And I think about death, and how one’s view of death is typically like my view of rollercoasters. From far away, it might not look fearsome, but the larger it looms and the more proximal it is, the greater your anxiety. You try to find ways to avoid it or delay it. It’s not a ride you want to go on, but you are in line already and the wait until your turn gets shorter with every passing minute. You pray and this helps to alleviate your fears a bit. Eventually, the time comes and you put your trust in God and get on the ride. And it ends up being so much better than you could have thought and you wonder why you were afraid to begin with. Had you known at the beginning of the line what you knew at the end, you would have eagerly looked forward to the trip.

And this is one of the many reasons why I know that God is alive and present in my life. I am in that line. But I am not afraid, because He has given me such grace and such peace. And while I know that I am securely fastened and safe in His hands, it’s nice to know that He allows me to cling back.

St. Jerome on Psalm 41, from the Liturgy of the Hours

So then, you who have followed our lead and robed yourselves in Christ, let the words of God lift you out of this turbulent age as a net lifts the little fishes out of the water. In us the laws of nature are turned upside down – for fish, taken out of the water, die; but the Apostles have fished us out of the sea that is this world not to kill us but to bring us from death to life. As long as we were in the world, our eyes were peering into the depths and we led our lives in the mud. Now we have been torn from the waves, we begin to see the true light. Moved by overwhelming joy, we say to our souls: Put your hope in the Lord, I will praise him still, my saviour and my God.