When I entered the hospital room her eyes said she recognized me.
All through our 25-year friendship, Mary taught me about life, faith and how to be a friend. She was suffering from the effects of diabetes. The last heart attack left her heart too weak to keep good circulation in her legs. The doctors were walking a fine line. They needed to amputate the leg before gangrene poisoned her. However, Mary’s heart had to heal enough for her to survive the surgery.
Mary had her share of sorrows. She knew the human face of abandonment, betrayal and crippling pain. I couldn’t look at her in that hospital bed lined with monitors and not feel a deep sense of injustice.
She turned to me and smiled. As her liver failed, so did her ability to speak coherently. Our eyes locked, and I could tell she wanted to say something. She seemed to concentrate hard, as if it was difficult to form the words. “I…love…” she paused as she struggled to get the last word out–so I drew closer. “Puppies!”
Then she closed her eyes and shook her head no, and giggled at herself.
She spent the rest of the afternoon in and out of reality–smiling, giggling and whispering. She was locked away deep inside herself with no escape. She was a prisoner inside her own body.
No one but God knows the deep recesses of our hearts. But this I know of Mary’s–she knew how to forgive and how to love.
Although she had plenty of reasons to do so, she did not harbor anger, envy or bitterness. She embraced her faith in her savior. With his help, they cleaned the inner walls of that prison cell of a dying body.
Mary’s been gone for over a decade, but I saw her face in between the lines of Viktor E. Frankl’s description of the concentration camp. In Man’s Search for Meaning Frankl writes of the depths of the human soul being exposed by the horrors of Auschwitz, but I couldn’t help but think it doesn’t take a concentration camp for one’s soul to be torn. Frankl asks,
“Is it surprising that in those depths we again found only human qualities which in their very nature were a mixture of good and evil?”
No. When you think about it– it’s really not.
Frankl describes prisoners that were more cruel and evil than their captors.
“From all this we may learn that there are two races of men in this world, but only these two–the ‘race’ of the decent man and the race of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society…no group is of ‘pure race’…”
While I have to agree, I would argue with his use of the word “race.” One cannot choose their own race. One can, however, choose good or evil. As Frankl asserted earlier, that the one freedom no one can take from us–is how we respond to our circumstances. How we respond to evil.
“Life in a concentration camp tore open the human soul and exposed its depths.”
We all will be pressed in one way or another by tragedy, injustice or sorrow and the real substance of our soul exposed. It’s up to each of us to decide what that’s going to look like.
I can only pray that if I am locked inside of myself as Mary was, I want to be full of the love and forgiveness– and perhaps a puppy or two.
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Photo credits Shutterstock; Jesus Cervantes