I didnít want to call. But I did. I didnít want to acknowledge the reality. But I had to. I donít want to write about this experience. But I have to. It demands to be told.
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Ed, a good friend, one whom I have known since our college years, has terminal cancer. His remaining days in this life are very few. I have not gone to visit with him because of the distance between his home and mine. We have lived apart Ė at least in the way that is measured by miles Ė for many more years than we spent together in school. But distance has never been a difficulty in our friendship. We had some time together about a year ago, but a year or more between conversations has always been just part of the ordinary pattern of our lives. Ed has a full life, and so do I. He has a fulfilling ministry as a priest. My wife and I have a fulfilling call to married life and parenthood. Our conversations with Ed have always simply begun where we left off the last time we talked. So when I called him on the phone, and asked him how he was, he told me. Family and friends had come to see him. He felt at peace. He said people had asked him if he had a wish list. He told them he had already done everything he wanted to do Ė since a moment of fully-expected death two years ago, when the death he had accepted at that time did not happen. Once again, he said, he is fully prepared. He has some apprehension about the possibility of pain in his last days, but he trusts he will have help from hospice care providers. There is something mysterious about dying, he said, something you canít know until you do it. Friends and family members may be with you at the moment of death, but you canít take them with you. You are alone. We are not meant to stay here, he reminds me, and he is looking forward new life and the promise of seeing God face to face. I told Ed that we have been apart much more than we have been together, but that he has always been present to me in some way. Living in different states, even at times in different countries, has not severed our relationship. Nor will this last great separation of time and distance put an end to our friendship. Even so, I have to admit and accept what I know is true. The reason I did not want to call was not that I did not want to say hello. I did call him, and I did say hello. The truth is, I did not want to call because I did not want to say goodbye. But I did call, and we said goodbye.
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During Lent, now underway, Christians are challenged to face the ultimate realities of death and resurrection, preparing for Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It is a time to take care of those things that you know you want to do before the last goodbye, time to prepare for the ultimate and eternal hello.
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Catholic Relief Services offers us a reminder for Lent that we are called to pray that we may be transformed, to fast in solidarity with those who are hungry, to learn to live with less, and to give so that others may live. Lent may be a time for personal penance, but it is also a time to encourage others Ė your children, your friends Ė to take advantage of the season. It is a good time to give up something, it is a better time to give in to the needs of others. Take the time to continue your conversations with those whom you love. Perhaps it is time to call, or write or visit, to reconcile if need be, or simply to re-connect. Take the time to renew your relationship with the one who has died for you, redeemed you, and promises you life beyond life.
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