Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Fear of the Loss of the Soul
Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell. —Matthew 10:28
My father was my age, 62, when he had his first stroke during my freshman year in college. It was not until I saw him hobbling on his cane far behind me at my college graduation that I suddenly stopped focusing on his disability, and was finally able to see the twinkle in his eye that said, “Larry, I love you.” My father had waited all his life to see me, his ninth child, graduate from college. My mother had admonished me to ease up on my quick athletic gait to accommodate his sluggish pace. A little over a year later, on the Saturday before Labor Day, my father died of a heart attack.
Since his death, for me the threat of the “holiday blues” is associated with Labor Day—not Christmas or the New Year. This past Labor Day weekend was particularly difficult one—having just shown our beautiful Old Louisville home to prospective buyers and Suzy out of town on business—when I was overwhelmed with fears about the death of my loved ones—Suzy, my sons, and a long-time friend who had prostate cancer. I went back in my memory 45 years to that graduation day when I lacked compassion for my father and his decaying body, until a sharp rebuke from my mother pulled me out of my self-absorption. I felt guilt and shame over my revulsion at his crippled body until I remembered the last time I saw my father, not long after that graduation. He leaned on his cane on the front porch of the house where I spent my entire childhood and planted a wet kiss on my check, his eyes glistening with tears of brightness and pride.
Later this past September, Suzy and I went back to upstate New York to celebrate two of my three sons’ birthdays. As we sat around a table celebrating the magical days of their births, I recalled my father’s departing kiss. I realized that kiss had somehow been planted in my soul. Its memory, sometimes returning in my dreams, reminds me to embrace my fear of the death of those I dearly love, knowing they will always live in the heart of God—and that God’s heart mysteriously exists in me. I must embrace each of their souls, and not let my fear of their deaths destroy the pure joy of their being alive.
God’s love for all of them and for me is the same. But my very human love for my sons obligates me to let them grow and go, just as my father let me go. My love of Suzy is a lifetime journey of body and soul until separated by death.
God, during this Lenten Season, help us to not only overcome the fear of death of those we hold dear, but also to embrace the eternity found when we place that fear and the care of our souls in your magnificent love.
Larry I. Palmer