Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Thanks to Tuesdays with Joan

Posted by Webster 
Before Christmas 2008, my friend and RCIA sponsor Joan of Beverly was diagnosed with lung cancer. In her 70s and slight of build to begin with, Joan underwent surgery, then began a grueling course of chemo and radiation, which dropped her weight to somewhere just north of 100. (No, that’s not Joan of Beverly in the picture, it’s Joan of Arc. But the resemblance is there!)

Along the way, not early enough, I admit, I began visiting her once a week. Then, two months ago, almost miraculously, it seemed, Joan received a clean bill of health: no sign of cancer, no need to visit her oncologist for six months! This is where the parallel with Tuesdays with Morrie stopped. I might have stopped my weekly visits once we knew Joan was well again, but the visits continue, because I have long since realized that I get more out of our meetings than I could ever bring to them.

When you meet someone whose faith is so solid, so unequivocal, you have to pursue the friendship. This is how I define friend today: Joan of Beverly.

I often walk up to Joan’s house from my office downtown. It’s a short walk. She’s usually waiting in her wing chair by the window. I try to bring something for her—a reading, an anecdote, a quote from one of Father Barnes’s homilies. Before her illness, Joan came to daily Mass, but she’s still not up to the 7 a.m. start, and she likes knowing what’s going on down the hill. (My office is right across from St. Mary’s.)

Yesterday afternoon, I thought I had a good one for her. I was reading Pope Benedict’s memoir and had been taken by his description of his parents’ deaths. So I read the short passages aloud to her, then looked up for her response. Thirty minutes later, she had stopped responding.

Joan spoke of her own parents’ deaths. Of her father’s passing away as she held his hand. And of her mother, whose encroaching dementia forced a family decision. Joan “put it all in the Lord’s hands,” asking God in prayer what he wanted her to do. A few days later, while she was at work, God gave his answer: Take your mother into your home.

Joan never questioned this word from God even though a couple of her siblings tried to dissuade her. It was Thanksgiving time, busiest time of year, and yet by Christmas, a room in her house had been done over and her mother had moved in. “Everything—just—worked,” Joan said, gesturing with her slender fingers that have only gained back a small amount of weight. “Everything always works when you put it in the Lord’s hands.”

Joan said to me yesterday that for the longest time she had thought she was “holding on to God”—doing all the things he asked, going to Mass, praying with her prayer group, saying endless Rosaries. Then one day, “I realized that he had been holding on to me all along.”

Joan is unwavering in such statements of faith. They are made with complete certainty. And all I can do most days is listen and nod and wonder. May you all have friends like Joan. I’m sure my experience is quite common among practicing Catholics who are friends to one another.