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"What Sarah Said"

alec vanderboom

I had an incredible Mass experience yesterday. I prayed next to my best friend, Theresa, whose husband had become paralyzed since her last Eucharist. On May 4, Theresa was her usual sunny self; she led my choir’s alto section, she helped me flip to the right page in my hymnal. Her husband, Pat, sat in his usual place in the second row from the front.

This Sunday, Theresa showed up early to sing for the crowning of Our Blessed Mother. She wore a red suit in honor of the Pentecost. She had her special yellow collection envelope for the convent our parish is building for our Dominican Sisters. She still knew the order of the hymns better than me, even though she had to miss Wednesday choir practice because her whole life had flipped upside down.

At 3 AM on Wednesday, May 7, Theresa's husband got up at night to use the bathroom. In the dark, he leaned a little to close to the stairwell. He fell down six stairs with such force that his head broke into the wall by six inches. Theresa told me before church that the sound was so horrible that she rushed out of bed. Her husband asked her to “take his head out of the wall.” As she helped him, she realized that she couldn’t put his head down on the floor. The pain that he had was overwhelming. She said simply, “I held his head in my hands and he said, “I can’t feel anything.” We both knew things were very bad.”

That feeling of celebrating the Mass with a friend whose spouse is currently undergoing massive spinal surgery, who is uncertain if he’ll be “one of the lucky ones who gets to push his own wheelchair someday,” or if he’ll remain completely paralyzed from the neck down, was overwhelming.

There was so many “practical things” I wanted to do for my friend. I wanted to get her some tea and honey because her throat was horse from talking so much on the phone about Pat’s condition. I started thinking about when I could drop by some meals. Each time I sort of drifted off into the ‘problem-solving” realm, I jerked myself back. What my friend need most, was God. And she was here, in her red suit and holding the proper collection envelope to get him. The best thing that I could do for her and for her husband was to pray with her and for her.

My friend took the Eucharist at daily Mass on Tuesday before the fall. The grace from that sacrament sustained her for four harrowing days. On Sunday, she ate the bread and body of Jesus. She gained the strength she needs to sustain her during the next week. It was humbling to realize that celebrating Mass with friends who are hurting “is all we can do,” at the same time “it’s all we need to do.”

And because my friend is such a devote Catholic, she was already able to see graces from such a challenging family crisis. Her three adult children, who had all drifted away from the faith, came to celebrate Mass with her on Mother’s Day. As my eloquent friend said, “this crisis is allowing my kids to exert spiritual muscle they never knew they had.”

Please pray for my friend’s husband that he makes a full recovery and that he fights off depression during this marathon of a recovery process.

And please keep the Pope’s intentions to pray for all Catholic artists this month.

Today, I started messing around with music and found this haunting lullaby by a husband in the I.C.U. I played it a lot on my computer as I prayed for my friend Theresa. The lyrics are powerful:

"And it came to me then that every plan is a tiny prayer to father time
As I stared at my shoes in the ICU that reeked of --- and 409
And I rationed my breaths as I said to myself that I'd already taken too much today
As each descending peak on the LCD took you a little farther away from me
Away from me

Amongst the vending machines and year-old magazines in a place where we only say goodbye
It stung like a violent wind that our memories depend on a faulty camera in our minds
But I knew that you were a truth I would rather lose than to have never lain beside at all
And I looked around at all the eyes on the ground as the TV entertained itself

'Cause there's no comfort in the waiting room
Just nervous pacers bracing for bad news
And then the nurse comes round and everyone will lift their heads
But I'm thinking of what Sarah said that "Love is watching someone die"

So who's going to watch you die?.."

So clear. So true. And yet not true. "There's no comfort in the waiting room." That line is written by a guy without hope and without Christ. My friend found hope in the I.C.U. I watched her vividly renew and sustain that hope during Mass.

The song ends with the line “who is going to watch you die?” That’s a real problem for my generation who makes it through life without marriage and without children. Their worried about who will be beside them unconditionally at the end. Even though my life is already filled with a loving family, I’m not even worried about dying alone in an I.C.U. For me the question isn’t, “who is going to watch me die?’ it’s ‘who is going to meet me at my death.” My hope is that it is Christ. The same Christ who faithfully sustains my friend through Eucharist. The same Christ who doles out grace after grace as I stumble after him in my daily life.

We need better Christian art, the art that reflects reality but also transcends present pain to give hope. If you’re a Catholic writer, please write. The world is fill of I.C.U. patients and brooding secular artists who need the light of Christ. And I need some better music to listen to while I pray.