Friends’ deaths in­still hope for hu­man­ity

Post-Tribune - - Opinion - FRED NIEDNER Val­paraiso Uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor of the­ol­ogy Fred Niedner is the se­nior re­search pro­fes­sor and as­so­ciate direc­tor of the In­sti­tute of Li­tur­gi­cal Stud­ies at Val­paraiso Uni­ver­sity.

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.