LATIN AMERICAOne foot in the grave
It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and I was in an area where many homeless families were living in shacks. I went to visit an ailing man and, to my surprise, found the poor man already dead. I went first to the police and reported the man’s death. Early the next day, and with the pickup truck, I went looking for some men to help me remove the body. We had to go to the morgue to pick up a box. It was heavy, made of iron, and the stench was overpowering! Blood stains were everywhere and God only knows whether the box was ever washed.
We left the box on the truck and transferred the body by using a dirty bed blanket from the poor man’s bed. It seems the blanket had never been washed. I got permission to have the poor fellow put into a grave in an area for the poor. No one knew his name. He was just an ‘unknown’ ... but not to his Creator!
The grave was too small so we had to do some more digging because packs of dogs will dig up the bodies. The dirt from the grave was placed to one side and the men placed the body on top of it.
Meanwhile, kids and dogs showed up. The children were watching the process when suddenly the left arm of the dead man fell out of the blanket. The kids and dogs took off like a rocket. Even the men digging got scared.
We put the poor fellow in the grave, covered with his blanket, said a prayer and buried him. One of the men made a little cross from two pieces of wood found in the trash. Then we returned the iron box to the morgue with some added blood stains. I had to pay $3 for the grave and that was that.
Another day, I gave Holy Communion to a dear lady in her late 80’s. I noticed a big, black trunk in the corner of her room and said to her, “I see you are packed for your trip!” She answered, “Yes, I am ready to go.” She went to her real Home two days later.
Another day I got a call from a young nurse asking me to go see her father, a doctor. I knew the man. He was my doctor. He never charged me a cent and he was very kind and good with many people, especially the poor. He had difficulty breathing but he could hear very well. And what did we talk about? Why death, naturally! Being a doctor, he had seen many patients die and he was being realistic about his own death. I made several visits to his bedside and found him in good cheer. Within three days he went Home!
One day the president of a senior citizen’s group asked if I would give a talk to them. About 80 elderly women and men were present. I saw faces that express a certain history of their lives as each face is priceless. Then I announced the theme - Death! They all looked at me in a questioning manner. I started by mentioning that most of us present already have a foot in the grave -- including myself -- and they all burst out laughing.
I spoke of the golden years, when human life is ending and a time to make amends, to pardon those who may have wronged you and to ask pardon for the wrong one did. God is giving us ample opportunities to make good use of the little time left. I enjoyed being with this group: their sense of humour, their approach to their natural ending and their not being afraid of death. One should not wait for death but rather death should wait for us. Be happy. After all, we are going to our real Home ... hopefully! (by Blaise MACQUARRIE in Oblate Spirit, February 2011)
That was the expression my mother used when, for one reason or the other, the house where she most recently lived alone filled up with guests or relatives on the occasion of her birthday, or a feast or because my friends came to see me when I was home for a vacation in Italy.
That expression came to my mind and heart when the experience of a house of discernment began again in Uruguay. The three youths arrived and in a few hours, voices, laughter, luggage and packages and a variety of music filled the house. You could hear them speaking among themselves trying to agree on how to organize their room in which there was just a bed for each one. They also accepted with humor the problems of limited space, they who until a few hours before had a room all for themselves. I seemed to be hearing the experience of the first Oblates on that far off January 25, 1816: their laughter and their joy at being together.
For a few weeks already, Fr. Marcos RIVAROLA and I had been living together in the house which in recent years had been a place where we Oblates would come back simply to sleep at night or spend a few brief moments during the day. For us here in Uruguay, the experience of a vocation house, a place where one can go through a discernment process, has not been a regular thing. Our secularized society does not encourage vocational discernment. But at the same time, this climate helps us in discerning the motivations of whoever begins this journey of community life.