We received terrible news on September 3rd. It will be difficult for me to forget that day as it was the day before my birthday. Laura’s youngest sister, Nancy, died. She had battled breast cancer, seemingly successfully, and was in remission for four years. Two years ago her cancer metastasized into her bones. She accepted the physically challenging treatments for a second time, attempting to stave off the progression of the disease. She maintained her courage, hope, and dignity, but must have tired greatly. At the end, she did not linger or seem to suffer greatly, certainly a gift to her family and friends. As soon as we received the news, we made arrangements to fly out to Atlanta the next day.
I recall similarly returning from a visit from Honduras some years ago. I had then received news that my mother’s sister was in a coma. She died the day after I returned home. It is a surreal experience to make such a trip under the cloud of grief. The expectation, of course, is that you are on vacation, but the reality could not be more distant. There is no means to make the buses or the planes go faster, and anxiety increases with each mile passed. In Atlanta the immigration officer asked us his standard series of questions. “So, you’re taking a vacation?” “Actually,” I hesitantly responded, “we’re here for a funeral.” His face fell, he sincerely expressed his sorrow, stamped our documents, and let us through quickly. It was a powerfully transcendent moment of connection where our common humanity was honored.
Life is so precious and yet so fragile. We attach ourselves so thoroughly to those we love. Millie, her mother; Laura and Jane, her two sisters; Michael, her brother; Rob, her husband; Robert, Andrew, and Daniel, her three sons ages 20, 18, and 15; her close friends and family, are forever attached to Nancy. So intensely beautiful, while at the same moment so intensely sad. Laura and I feel so fortunate to have decided to take our quick trip in late June. We saw Nancy and her family. It was one of the principal reasons we made the trip and the reasons why we couldn’t manage to see all of our family and friends. But we spent quality time with Nancy, something we will always cherish.
My personal faith has always been premised on the inner feeling that so much love present within me, and my trust of its presence within others, could not possibly be limited to the brevity of physical life. That accounts for the sense of the surreal in our rushed trip to Atlanta. We’re back now. Nancy and her family were much better off than most of us and they enjoyed comforts that few of us do. It’s impossible not to consider the extreme difference of what life is like there as compared to here. That is also quite a challenge for me, and an added dimension to the surreal quality. Without making judgment, it’s always jarring.
Yet, I have to say that this time I was struck with how superficial the differences really are. Our friends here, upon learning of the loss of Laura’s sister, offered the same condolences. The connection to our humanity, the knowledge of vulnerability, is the same here as anywhere. There is so much more that unites us than differentiates us. It is truly sad that we so seldom live with a sense of our common humanity.
September 15 is the commemoration of Honduran independence. Saturday, Sunday, and Monday are all parade days here in La Esperanza. On Saturday, all the kindergarten kids march. On Sunday, all the escuela children (1st – 6th grade), and on Monday, the actual day of independence, the older colegio teens (7th – 9th grade). They all dress in band uniforms, a military look. It seems every child in town is given the chance to march. Walking around the town along the parade route, all of the families wait in anticipation for their son or daughter to pass. When they do, they beam with joy. Cell phones are raised over the heads of the crowd to get a snapshot. I imagine if the family has a little extra money, they get that picture printed and post it to their wall. The pride and joy seem to flow from one family to the next. Though the context and the cultural expression are so different, the feel for what is truly important never changes. How precious.
Life is a gift. Love is its honor.