Wednesday, April 27, 2011


"Don't the hours grow shorter as the days go by
You never get to stop and open your eyes
One day you're waiting for the sky to fall
The next you're dazzled by the beauty of it all"

Bruce Cockburn, "Lovers in a Dangerous Time"

On the news tonight, they're talking about the beatification of John Paul II and what sainthood means in the Roman Catholic tradition.  I'm watching with my dad--fitfully hacking up phlegm--and we're reminded that John Paul II had Parkinson's at the end.  Dad has it now.  He can't hold his head straight any more.  He hacks and hacks to get the phlegm up.  And it takes two large aides to get him into the bathroom.  He spends days resting in an armchair, a washcloth in his lap in case he needs to get the phlegm up quickly.  I wonder if John Paul II had something like it.  In his lap at the end.

Then there's this: You need a confirmed miracle to be sainted.  And John Paul II is believed to have healed a French nun also weakened by Parkinson's Disease.  With that, there's no doubt the former pope will be sainted in record time.

This has me thinking about miracles--what they are, what they mean.  I'm looking at the washcloth in my dad's lap.  I'm watching one of the aides, a strong and fearless woman, as she takes it and wipes some spittle from his chin.  She stays by his side for a moment and rubs his sore left arm.  

Miracles?  It strikes me that the real miracles are much more ordinary.  I have no doubt, really, that the wildly unusual happens and surprises.  But so does the tender, the human--the sweet touch that simply seeks to comfort.  

That's what I'm watching here.  The sweet touch that simply seeks to comfort.  Perhaps the church has a purpose in elevating the wildly unusual, the extraordinary achievements of heroes.  But illness is with us forever.  Death is coming for every one of us.  The real miracle seems to be living with that; the real miracle is choosing kindness, patience, companionship.  The large woman in my parents' living room will never see beatification or sainthood.  But she's showing me almost everything I need to know.