The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee,
preserve thy body and soul under everlasting life. Take and eat
this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on
him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving.
–Book of Common Prayer, Holy Eucharist, Rite I
I have heard these words nearly every Thursday morning at the Rite I service I attend at my church. But last Thursday, time felt as though it were suspended, as my pastor firmly placed the communion bread into my palm as I knelt at the altar rail in our small chapel.
My pastor begins this prayer as he serves communion to the first person kneeling. And as he moves to the next person, he continues with the next line of the prayer. As he reached me, he was up to the words, “by faith.”
And faith was exactly what I had lost, only about a half hour earlier.
Four days prior, my dearest and oldest friend on this planet, Jim, a friend whom I consider an anam cara (soul friend in Gaelic) had suffered a massive heart attack. He is only 51 and in good health. He had been revived by medics. We were told he was without oxygen for ten minutes. He was in a medically induced coma. I was on the other side of the country and relying upon friends at a distance to get my updates. It looked grim for four days. No response. My friends, my family, and my entire church were all praying for Jim’s recovery. I could not imagine walking this earth without my soul friend at my side. I was distraught and steeped in grief for four solid days.
On Thursday morning there had been no change in Jim’s status. Before leaving for church, I sat on the floor of my bedroom and I spoke to him. Jim and I have certainly had “conversations” without benefit of a telephone connection before. I knew with Jim in a coma, his heart would feel my words now.
Gentle tears ran down my cheeks as I said, “Jim, I love you. And I will miss you. But if you need to go — if you need to be free — it’s okay to leave.” I sat there for some time, just being with the sound of those words and all they meant. Jim and I had talked plenty about death and dying and nearly 20 years ago we dealt with the tragic passing of a friend who was barely 30. We had had many “big conversations.” I was sad, but I knew being kept alive on machines was not consistent with Jim’s idea of life.
I looked at the clock then and realized I’d be ten minutes late for church. And I thought perhaps God would understand if I skipped this week. And then I heard Jim’s voice inside my head. “Maria Grace,” (he only used my middle name when he was exasperated with me). “Get your ass to church.”
I froze in my tracks. It was so completely something Jim would have said. I paused in disbelief. Then, I heard, “And put on your goddamned green!”
It was Saint Patrick’s Day. I looked down at my sweater. It was mauve.
I glanced back at the clock. Changing clothes would mean I’d be an additional five minutes late.
I went back into my closet and pulled out a change of clothes.
I got to church just in time for the last part of the first reading. During the sermon, our pastor was talking about how there can be no Easter without a Good Friday. I’m at the end of my first year of training to be a spiritual director. Throughout much of Lent we have been talking about the Pascal Mystery and the many transitions of life into death we experience on this earth. I peacefully sat with the pastor’s words, accepting that Jim’s time of transition was likely nearing and this was God’s way of preparing me. I was sad, but I was at peace with what seemed (at least clinically speaking) to be the obvious.
I had my phone set to vibrate in my pocket, something I would typically never do while in church. But this day I was so sure that within the hour I’d be receiving sad news, I could not bring myself to silence my phone. As the pastor was speaking about the Pascal Mystery, the phone vibrated. I silenced it immediately and I took a peek at the message.
It simply read: “He wiggled his toes on command.” It was beyond anything any one of us could have expected. He was in there. Tears of joy ran down my face. There was voluntary movement, he could hear, he could process information. I knew Jim. I knew the rest would come.
All clinical evidence and all physical world knowledge spoke against this moment.
And yet more the next day. Jim moved his knees. We had bilateral movement and recruitment of large muscle groups, which suggested that with therapy Jim would walk again.
Two days later, we received confirmation that Jim’s personality was still in there. He had undergone a tracheotomy, but was communicating with his eyes. When he was asked what he had perceived as a stupid question, he rolled his eyes as if to say, “Duh.”
Small things become monumental gifts in times such as these. And these were gifts that were precious to us all. They embodied hope.
Jim is still very much on a healing journey and likely will be for a while. I post this blog on Holy Saturday, a holy day of waiting. And appropriately, here we are, patiently waiting for more news about Jim’s continued healing.
Easter has always been an odd time of transition for me. It seems to come a bit too quickly after the darkness of Good Friday and the stripping of the altar. One day of waiting for the stone to be rolled away doesn’t seem to be quite enough time for me. The new-found brightness and the shift into celebration feels a bit shocking. I don’t feel prepared for such radical change. And I can only imagine the shock of Mary as she arrived at the tomb, finding the stone moved, as she made the transition from grief into joy. Such a large shift for a human heart to make.
Wishing you God’s blessings and the peace and joy of the Resurrection this Easter and always.
May we all walk by faith.
Maria Grace Mandarino
©Maria Grace Mandarino 2016