As the older generation of my family reaches their twilight years, and begin to moving higher up the mountain toward their final destination, some find themselves in the enviable position of, having nothing to lose, voicing ideas and dreams they never before allowed themselves to utter.
As I listen to them speak, I am reminded of an old friend who died two years ago. The last time I saw Charlie Shedd, a friend and I were visiting with him in his home in Athens, Georgia, rocking on the back porch where he had built a swing for his first (some would say one true) love, Martha. I never had the privilege of meeting her -- she died of cancer years before I struck up a friendship with her husband, whose books I edited when I worked at Servant.
Charlie Shedd was never one to self-censor, and his work was the better for it even though it raised the hackles of a few "upright, uptight" evangelicals in his day ("The Stork is Dead" was a singular example of this). However, I was floored when this preacherman came out with a twilight confession about his beloved Martha: "You know, there are times when I still see her, stepping out of the shower, or swinging here in her favorite yellow sweater. I don't know if it's just a powerful memory or some kind of dream -- but it's as real as you and I sitting here."
There was a time in my life when this sort of confidence would have freaked me out -- but as a Catholic, I was intrigued by the idea of being so close to another human soul, of loving that person so much, that he or she never leaves even in death. Some might consider it one aspect of the "communion of saints," these familiar apparitions, examples of imperfect love perfected in glory.
We were made for eternal relationship. Death is a temporary circumstance, a transition. And now that Charlie, too, is gone -- having passed from his earthly existence to venture toward his eternal reward -- those of us who knew him, remember him still with great fondness.
That is not to say that Charlie was a saint, though he was a great soul. Like most of us, Charlie was a work in progress; no doubt once admitted through the gates, the angels will have cause to rejoice at his expansive, loving heart. However, in the event he had a bit of "washing up" to do, first, I offer this on behalf of all God-fearing albeit somewhat over-confident souls who find themselves -- despite all expectations to the contrary -- on the wrong side of heaven's gates.
we offer up to you our heartfelt intentions,
united with the merits of Your precious Son,
whose death ransoms and restores
every soul who calls upon Your name.
We seek Your mercy,
not only for ourselves but also for those
wandering in darkness, mystified and alone.
Send Your angels to guide them through
the water and the fire, till every blemish fades.
And when we meet again,
may we rejoice eternally not because we were right,
but because You are righteous. And may we adore You
not because we escaped the fires of hell,
but because You are the true and lasting light.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
especially those who did not believe in life
that they would need our prayers in death.
Dear Jesus, be with those we love.
Especially those imperfect souls we loved best
while they were with us.
(c) 2006 Heidi Hess Saxton