I read something so powerful the other day that I can't get it out of my mind.
Interestingly, it followed an equally powerful thought that I had just hours before I read it. The thought happened as I began dozing off one evening, drifting in and out of that surreal space between awake and asleep.
The thought was about my children and how unique each of them is. Yes, they all have unrepeatable attributes that no one else in the world has. But it went beyond that. It was as if I were sensing the soul of these individuals in my family. And suddenly, I was struck with a bit of panic -- like in a nightmare -- with this: "What if they had not come to be? What if I'd never known them? What if they simply weren't?"
Honestly, I have no idea what brought this on, but it seized me. I was at once terrified and elated. On the one end, the thought of them not existing and what that void might feel like (intolerable), and on the other, a profundity of sheer gratitude that they are.
And then, as I was reading through Fr. Michael Gaitley's Consoling the Heart of Jesus, which I've been studying this year as part of a faith-sharing group, something jumped out from the pages that seemed completely relevant to this nighttime illumination.
Gaitley is first talking about how rather mundane most of us are, most of the time. "People are people -- and, frankly, we do seem to be a motley crew. Moreover, the day-in, day-out people, especially those we live with and love, quickly seem to lose their mystery."
But then he says something else -- something that made me perk right up: "One test shows that each person is an inexhaustible beauty."
What? It sounds so simple. Could there be such a test? What is he talking about? What thing could measure sublimity? Absolute value in a person? Proof for beauty of the soul?
So what is that test? Death.
Here's how he puts it: "Someone we know and love suddenly dies. Just as suddenly, they're not so mundane."
Oh, how true it is. I know that people complain sometimes about everyone becoming heroes at their funeral. But isn't it true that when someone who has been in our life passes, all the apparent wrong they did, all the mistakes they might have made, pale in comparison to the good they brought, not only us but the world? How, even if in their imperfections, they made our life better, richer, than it would have been without them in it?
"Suddenly, we easily see past their annoying aspects and remember the irreplaceable gift that they were -- and, in fact, as we remember them, we often find we love those aspects that annoyed us and wish we could experience them again," Gaitley says. "When someone we love dies, there's no question of consoling ourselves with the thought, 'Oh don't be so sad, there are plenty of other people in the world.' We all intuitively understand why that's so ridiculous."
All the other people in the world may well have been funnier, better looking, kinder, more athletic, etc., but none of that matters at the point of death. "There was a treasure in the beloved that no one can replace no matter how talented or gifted, and we rightfully mourn the fact that this side of heaven, we'll never encounter it again. We rightfully weep because there's a hole in the cosmos, a reflection of Christ's face that, here, we behold no more."
Truer words were never spoken. And it's also true -- and agonizingly so -- that often, death is the only thing that lifts the scales from our eyes of the person now at the object of our complete affection.
It's sad that we cannot truly see this beauty until the person has gone, and yet, I do think that death is quite possibly the only way we can truly see another as God does. Even then, the visual is still incomplete. It's not yet heaven, after all.
So what's the lesson? Well, for me, it's just an awareness of this, and to somehow cling to the thought I experienced the other night so that I can -- maybe not every second of every day, but most days at least -- have an awareness for how truly and absolutely precious the people in my life are.
In April, we celebrated the 10th birthday of our youngest, Nick.
He's been alive a full decade now, and he may well epitomize this whole concept best of all for me. Because many people thought we were crazy to be open to another life, this child in particular should not have "been," according to the "world." He should not have existed. And yet, here he is, and again I shudder to think of what life would be like without him, and screech with relief at the reality that he is.
We have no idea, do we? No idea at all how truly unrepeatable and loved each of us is. But I think if we can just start to fathom it -- just even make a small attempt to see this good, this invaluable beauty in those around us -- we might be onto something quite amazing, quite necessary, even if quite mind-blowing and impossible to grasp within our current limitations. And yet ... it's certainly worth opening the eye of our soul to see.
[Roxane B. Salonen co-authored former Planned Parenthood manager Ramona Treviño's memoir, Redeemed by Grace. Her work is featured on Peace Garden Passage at roxanesalonen.com.]