“All endings are just beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time…”
This is one of the punch lines of an original novel, The Five People You Meet In Heaven, I have just read. I got the book from Pope John Paul The Great Bookshop at Agana Shopping Mall.
Eddie, a rather sour old man, dies tragically in a seaside amusement park. He wakes up in heaven. But it is not the lush Garden of Eden he always imagined. First, he has to go though a journey of enlightenment. He meets five people who have been waiting for him and who explain to him the meaning of the events that happened in his life.
So many of us live an embittered life because we feel that life has been unjust to us. We do not understand why the things that happened to us should have happened to us. We want life differently. Somehow we feel we deserve better without recognizing the obvious, namely that life is pregnant with a wisdom that comes from above. Happiness starts when we start reconciling ourselves with life the way it is.
Take the example of Sister Michelle Mohr. From the time she was a little girl, her mother taught her there was a God. And there was a heaven. And she would go there one day.
So Sister Michelle, 44, is not afraid to die. She lives in a cloistered community. Cloistered means a convent reserved just for the sisters – a place where they are free to pray and draw closer to Jesus away from the hoopla of the world. Like our Carmelite Sisters in Maloloj.
In August of last year, five years after she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, her doctors gave her a choice. She could have more chemo; it would slow the spread of the tumors but it would not cure her. Or she could be made comfortable until her death. She chose the latter. “Chemo and I don’t get along”, she comments with a smile.
It was not easy. The fear of death is inside us. It took her a week to find peace with the idea of dying. “It’s what I call my agony in the garden.” After that her heart opened. “It was an opportunity that I have been given. A time for preparation.”
A special bed with buttons that make the bed go up and down, a wheelchair, the medicine were all moved in. A special permission was given to her mother so that she could come and live inside the cloistered area.
“I am surrounded by gifts”, she always remarks. She makes prayer books and fills the pages with her favorite prayers. “Don’t worry! I don’t say them all every day!!” She is so full of humor.
On the front page of this prayer book, there is a picture of boy named Nathan. She never met him. He had a brain tumor and died six years ago. She reads the prayer he wrote, “Lord, take my soul to that awesome place so that I will see your holy face…”
“No life is a waste. The only time we waste is the time we spend thinking we are alone”, writes Albom in the book I mentioned.
She enjoys saying stories. Sister Serena was still a novice and she wanted badly to see the volley ball match between the K-State Wildcats and the Lady Huskers. “Do you think we can get tickets?” the novice asked eagerly Sister Michelle. “Have faith,” the later answered. “If Mary can have Jesus turn that water into wine, she can help us get volleyball tickets.” They got the tickets…
“What is heaven like?” many ask her. “I do not know because I have not been there yet, but I suppose it is a place filled with what people are searching for – love. We shall meet true love for the first time….”
I am sure Sister Michelle understands perfectly what Albom wrote in his book. “Sacrifice is part of life. It’s supposed to be. It’s not something to regret. It’s something to aspire to. Little sacrifices. Big sacrifices. A mother works so her son can go to school. A daughter moves home to take care of her sick father. …
When you sacrifice something precious, you are not really losing it. You are just passing it to someone else”
She invites the sisters to come and see her. “Have I done anything I need to apologize for?” she asks… It is very important, she feels, to leave this earth reconciled with others.
She is ready to die. “Dying, is it the end of everything?” asks Albom again. “We think it is. But what happens on earth is only the beginning. I figure it’s like in the Bible, the Adam and Eve deal. Remember Adam’s first night on earth? When he lay down to sleep? He thinks it’s all over, right? He doesn’t know what sleep is. His eyes are closing and he thinks he’s leaving this world, right? Only he isn’t. He wakes up the next morning and he has a fresh new world to work with, but he has something else, too. He has his yesterday. Perhaps that’s what heaven is. You get to make sense of your yesterday’s.”
Life has to end. Love does not.
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.