Friends’ deaths instill hope for humanity
The acrimonious nature of the debate raging over Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” film seems like conclusive evidence, if we need some, that at least two very different cultures dwell uneasily but side by side in this country.
On matters such as guns, killing, war, patriotism and what it means to be an American, we have widely, even wildly, divergent views. Our respective camps find it increasingly difficult to abide the other’s opinions, if not its very presence.
Moreover, thanks to social media and the blogosphere, the corrosive effects of our quarreling proceed at warp speed compared to those in any preceding generation. With an Internet connection, every crackpot, ideologue, sage or saint can reach audience numbers once reserved for presidents and newspaper publishers.
Even if we survive the looming ecological and economic crises we conveniently deny, will we have enough civility left to retain something like civilization?
I witnessed some things that gave me hope for humanity this past week, although they came through an entryway we all yearn to keep closed. Two longtime friends died, one in a hospice center, the other in a way that stunned friends and family with its suddenness and incongruous circumstances.
Love and deep gratitude saturate the story a man tells about the last days of the woman with whom he shared his life and home for 50 years. You can’t miss the sacredness of such a narrative. It lifts up what truly matters, accounts for life’s most precious gifts.
That first story I heard included among these things the kindness, patience and gentleness of the hospice nurses who assisted my friend and his children, assisting him through his final journey and into whatever arms wait beyond the boundaries of space and time.
The other friend’s life ended aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean, as he and his wife celebrated 45 years of marriage and a new phase of retirement. On Monday evening, somewhere near Panama, the ship’s captain presided as they renewed their wedding vows.
From a distance, a host of friends, mostly oldsters such as me who have chased off the collegestudent clientele for whom Mark Zuckerberg originally intended Facebook, celebrated with them — offering a host of “likes” and congratulatory comments about their good looks and spectacular surroundings.
Next morning came news of a heart attack, and now the Facebook circle hummed sadly but sweetly with expressions of shock, condolence and most of all love.
The same social media many of us have criticized for the superficiality of its friending habits allowed a couple hundred true friends to wrap their arms around a still numb, newly widowed woman half a world away.
Before that day ended, Facebook posts also told us of the extraor- dinary kindness and generosity of the ship’s medical staff, crew and captain.
Their professionalism at hospitality transcended the decadence and artificiality of much cruise ship culture and proved itself grounded in genuine care and attentiveness to human need — even, and especially, when the party music suddenly stops.
Yet another post shared the story of a Catholic priest aboard the ship who came upon the unsuccessful resuscitation scene and prayed with my Lutheran pastor friend as he breathed his last.
For all our divisions and animosities, the shouting and recriminations generally cease the moment that death steps into the room. Humility and generosity emerge in the silence. In such moments, we find we’re all the same.
Truth be told, the whole world is one, big hospice unit. We would do well to imitate those nurses who show the same kindness to everyone.