Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken: The Time Of Darkness

I have written before about the accident that nearly claimed my life. Some parts of the struggle can't be seen or described up close. You need distance and time to see what's really taking place. Many months later, I can describe it.

Right after the accident, and for four days afterward, I felt almost unimaginable joy. I know it sounds crazy, but I won't lie to you. I could say I've never understood real love until then, and in some sense it would be true. I knew that God loved me, as the only reality that exists, as if it were air, or food. If you were there, I don't know what you saw, but that's what I knew. The physical suffering was there, but it was completely irrelevant. My most difficult moment, if that is the right thing to call it, was consoling my mother when she first saw me. No one can touch your heart like your mother.

I don't remember praying for myself at all. I remember praying for a man dying of cancer, who somehow got hurt physically. I couldn't see him, but I could hear the staff talking to him. Sometimes perspective is right in front of us. You don't need long memoirs or ruminations; life and death is the present reality.

There were two brothers who got into a knife fight, there at the same time I was. Maybe their father was telling the truth, and they were horsing around. But suppose not. Suppose these brothers hated each other, and here they were. I'd much rather be a disabled person struck by a car while walking home from Mass and Arby's.

It's a little easier to feel tremendous joy when you have two friends like Bryan Cross, and Bob Lozano. This wasn't a normal happening, but Bob and I did what we always do: laughed and joked. If they made a movie about us, it would be called, "Goofball Saints". In any case, Bob was the one to tell me Bryan was coming down from Iowa. I'll be happier I'm sure, when I see my bride walking toward the altar for our Nuptial Mass. Until then, I'll be thankful for the happiness I felt in that moment. You see, Bryan is what I call a "Memory Maker." We've experienced a lot of different things together, and by grace, he has a way of capturing the profound. Or at least being there for it. All the joy and goodness of the years since the spring of 2009 when we met was present to me when I heard he was coming. I was excited to know what mercy would show to him, and what he'd share with me. He's friend, family, and teacher, all rolled into one. I know he must have felt many different things upon hearing this news, but it was not a time for sorrow.

All this joy, where is the darkness? I underwent the major surgery to fix my face and jaw on May 4. All of the potentially dangerous things medically happened after this. All of that difficulty was merely an occasion for a temptation against faith, or hope. Probably the worst I will ever know, by the mercy of God. I heard a constant voice in my head saying, "This is your life now. You won't get better. Your faith is a lie. You are a liar and a fraud." Guess who?

Eight days it was like this. I didn't know what to do, and I couldn't speak. I'm not exactly sure what "giving up" would have looked like, but I can tell you this: The physical hardship is a drop in the bucket, compared to despair. Despair is the opposite of the supernatural virtue of hope. I'll take any suffering of a physical nature, over this despair. It lurked like a physical presence. Like many new Catholics, I was amazed and thankful for the saints, but truthfully, I thought they were crazy. I no longer think they are crazy. I know why they ask to suffer. God's love added to anything is just God's love.

I'm pretty emotional as you read this now. People said they were amazed that I could be so joyful in my recovery. If Hell is an endless, unending ocean of despair--set aside the physical torments for the moment--then some small joy in the face of suffering is easy. It's easy.

I'm just an ordinary sinner. But I got a taste of Hell, by some severe mercy, and it's enough. Enough to understand what this whole thing is about. The next time you pray, or do anything spiritual, remember what I've said. If you know that you are loved by God, you can endure anything.

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