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A Thought About Farewells

Being the avid Disney nerd I am, it no longer surprises me when, in movies, within the first half hour or so, someone important leaves or dies; some sort of goodbye takes place before the plot can advance any further. Which means that Marvel movies have majorly screwed with me, because NO ONE IMPORTANT EVER ACTUALLY DIES (and if anyone says Agent Coulsen, you clearly haven’t seen Agents of SHIELD…spoiler alert…), so it’s like, “Goodbye–NO WAIT WHAT OH MY GOSH YOU’RE ALIVE”. And in retrospect, there have been a fair amount of movies, Disney or otherwise, that do sort of the same thing (mostly Disney, because typically there’s some sort of magic or prophecy involved).

But there’s one Disney goodbye that still haunts me and tears at my heart: when Widow Tweed says goodbye to Todd in The Fox and The Hound.

Because not only is that goodbye accompanied with Tweed’s reminiscences and a tear-jerker of a harmonica-led song; it’s a devastatingly final goodbye. When she drives away from Todd, leaving him alone in the woods as she cries, and he just looks after her, confused, there’s no question in anyone’s mind: this is it, the last time they’ll ever see one another. There is no sudden return to the way things were; the film ends with Todd looking down on his old home from his new home in the woods.

Now there are two quotes about goodbyes that I have wrestled with: that sickeningly sweet “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” dealio, and a quote by C.S. Lewis that says, essentially, “Christians never say goodbye”. The first is pretty easy, in my mind, to question. It’s all well and good to say that we ought to rejoice in the good times that have been had, and there is no doubt that I look back with a (bittersweet) smile on the friends to whom I have said goodbye. And yet, when you stand before the ones you love, looking them in the eye and knowing that you may never see them again, feeling like your heart is being ripped from your chest, even if you can manage a smile, how can you not (at least internally) shed tears? How can you ignore that you are about to lose a person who has been precious to you? What greatness is there in denying to yourself that you will miss their laugh, their smile, the way they used to talk and walk, and just their very presence?

The second quote is less troubling, but still makes me uneasy. Essentially, the quote is recognizing the intimate bond we share as members of the Body of Christ, which keeps us always united no matter where we are, and is the source of our eternal union in Heaven.  Still, even as we Catholics say to each other, “I’ll see you in the Eucharist”, even as our eyes of faith see the one to whom we have said goodbye in Christ’s Mystical body, and even as our hope tells us that we will see our loved ones in Heaven someday, isn’t there an ache? Can you deny that there is a hole in your heart where the other used to be?

Brethren, for anyone who has said goodbye and known that it was a truly final farewell, life afterwards is the life of an amputee. When we give another person a room in our hearts, we can’t help but feel the cold drafts through the open door and the cobwebs in the corners when they have gone. We have to go on living, knowing that we will never be the same.

That’s just it, though, I guess…we will never be the same. That is the glorious thing about our friendships and our familial bonds. The moment they are forged, we are changed. Love is a strange thing; once it enters your heart, you will never know a deeper ache, and yet every heart-wrenching moment is pure bliss, because you get to look into the eyes of the one you love. So when that terrible, inevitable moment comes when you have to say goodbye, and every part of your being is moaning for just another moment more with the beloved, we shouldn’t hide behind melancholy reminiscence or joyful hope, no matter how noble either might prove to be later. No.

When your universe suddenly seems as if its very light is about to be sucked away, when the air you breathe is about to be torn from your lungs, put every ounce of love you can into that last embrace, the final moment in which the one who brought music to your life pulls you close to them, letting your heart bleed out in one final, painful, blissful rapture of a moment. Then let them slip away, like rain slipping through your fingertips, burning like acid, and smile, because the tears that are sure to come mean that you have been lucky enough, in the few years of your life on this strange and beautiful place called Earth, to have met another person who entered into your life and you into theirs so deeply that your parting is torturous.

Finally, if you can stand it yet, say a prayer that you may both have the strength to go on to love again, and begin to find solace in the love of God, the one and only lover about Whom you can truly say that you will never have to say goodbye.

Learning to Watch the Sunrise

Life is a beautiful thing, truly breathtaking. Yet even the most beautiful rose will be studded with thorns.

I’m a college student, so I don’t claim to know everything there is to know about suffering. I can claim, though, that I have felt pain, I have faced and still face trials and struggles. Through it all, for the longest time, it all swirled under an ebony cloud of confusion. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what I was really facing, or why I had to face it. This past week was no exception. Until a drop of sunlight fell blindingly through the cloud to bring back the light of hope and joy stifled for so long in the darkness.

I and many friends consecrated ourselves last December to Jesus through Mary according to the formula set forth by St. Louis-Marie de Montfort. De Montfort wrote a book on what it truly means to devote oneself to the Blessed Virgin entitled True Devotion. Which, unfortunately, I have yet to read myself, but which a dear friend is currently reading. Now I don’t believe in coincidences–I believe that which is referred to as serendipity is really the hand of God at work–so it was not just a nice surprise but a spiritual gift when he shared the following insight from the book: Mary hands us the sweetest gifts of Heaven–crosses.

How can this make any sense? Crosses sweet? The mind reels at the paradox. Allow me, then, to share with you the path I took in discovering the beauty of this truth.

Fellow pilgrims, Christ Himself said, “[H]e who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Harsh? Considering He literally carried a giant cross on a scarred and bleeding back with thorns dug into His skull, through streets and up a rocky hill, alone but for those who lined the streets to mock Him, after which He died a slow painful death by suffocation and blood loss with nails through His hands and feet, all so we might have the chance to spend eternity in Heaven, I hardly think so.

And no, I do not digress. Consider: our God knows the full extent of our suffering. He was physically tortured, murdered, knew loneliness, was tempted when He was weakest in bodily strength in the desert, had a cousin who was killed, watched His mother suffer as He carried out His mission–in the words of Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, “I fight not under a Captain Who has never sensed a wound, but One who stumbled to His Throne.” There is a poignant scene in The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis in which Diggory, beginning to cry, hangs his head in shame and pain before Aslan, who represents Christ. When he finally looks Aslan in the eye, he is shocked: Aslan, too, is crying.

Brethren, God does not rejoice in our suffering. What He does rejoice in is that which lies just beyond the suffering, if we will only trust Him. You see, God’s love for us is incomprehensible, because He is Love Himself; He is that love which says, “I freely sacrifice all I am and have for your greater good and ultimate happiness.” The thing is, He sees what will truly make us good and happy, while we can’t even see what will happen to us in the next moment. He is outside of time and space; we, for now, must work within it. So inevitably, God’s going to allow things or give us things that simply don’t make sense.

But there is peace, is there not, in knowing that God is not only walking with us but guiding us? If we are trusting in God and striving to grow closer to God, then the times in which we feel lost may well be the times in which He holds us closest to Himself.

A final point: in the Catholic Church, there is a teaching of ‘redemptive suffering’–the belief that in our suffering, if we truly offer it to God joyfully and unite it with Christ’s salvific sacrifice, we can participate in the work of salvation. By our offering of that which we struggle through, we can win souls for Heaven. Brethren, consider: we have been given the chance to participate in the divine work of redemption, the very work which transforms us and makes us adopted Children of God. Besides the gift of Himself for the work of salvation and in the Eucharist, please tell me what greater gift there could be.

I wish I could say it gets easier. News flash: life is hard. And the closer you get to Christ, the harder it will become, the deeper He will call us, the more struggling He will entrust to us. And yet, how much greater is the joy that will come with it, how much stronger is the fire of purpose leading us ever forward to Paradise. How great will eternity be for us, how beautiful is the promise made by He who will never break His promises.

And for those who simply need a little encouragement: God walks with you in your suffering. He weeps with you as you cry, feels your pain as you fall. To get back up again, to struggle forward again on this rocky road of reality with praise on your lips and faith in your heart, brings untold joy to the Heart Who gave you life. And just beyond the twilight is the promise of a rising sun that will drive away all doubt, eradicate all pain, dry away all tears.

Hope in the Lord, for the sun will rise.

(Credit due to my good friend Joe, for giving me the quote and, more importantly, the friendship that has brought me to this understanding)

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