Monday, June 2, 2008

Consider the lilies of the field

For the past few months, Ian and I have been quietly working on the script for "Home of Our Hearts - The L'Arche Cape Breton Story". This event is happening on Friday, June 27th, as a part of the L'Arche Cape Breton 25th anniversary celebrations. It's quite an undertaking, condensing 25 years of history into a 30-45 minute drama that can be staged by people with disabilities, but we were up for the challenge and things have come together beautifully. Our story is told in themes, not chronology. All the narration is provided by excerpts from L'Arche Cape Breton newsletters, and the action mainly comes from mimed Bible stories.

One of our themes is "Trust in Providence". The biblical text is from Matthew. "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, nor gather into barns, yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these..." The action was simply our own Angela Cormier, centre stage, a flower.

Angela is the perfect illustration of Jesus' message in this reading. People look at Angela in her big motorized chair, unable to move anything but her fingers without help, and they think she does nothing. And in a sense, maybe they are right. But like the lilies of the field, not even kings and queens in all their glory add as much beauty to the world as Angela.

On Sunday, May 25th, Angela died.

Even to write these words is still an effort. Angela was only 28 years old, full of life, welcoming every day with enthusiasm, eagerly anticipating the excitement in the weeks and months and years to come. Her death is a tragedy; her departure leaves a hole in my heart and in my life and in my community. The death of this woman of light and prayer and beauty leaves me in darkness, unable to pray, searching in vain for beauty around me.

And so this theme of "Trust In Providence" that Angela was meant to illustrate so eloquently takes on a deeper meaning, and is a challenge to me in these days of grief. Can I trust in Providence now, through her death? If I was so convinced just days ago that Angela's life was a call to trust in the mystery of God's loving care, then how can I hear that call also in her death?

Today I pray for consolation and for trust. And I offer these words from Angela's friend Haley, read at Angela's funeral:

Ma chandelle est morte – My candle is out.

Truly the darkness lingers. During the past few days, we have seen the night. We have spoken of emptiness, of 'blackness', of utter sorrow, of brokenness. We have asked questions, we have told stories, we have sung songs, we have held close together. And yet, the darkness lingers.

I keep searching for my light. I keep searching for the woman who was always able to tell me "Don’t worry about it, it’s going to be all right. The don’t be sad." I keep searching for someone to tell me with utmost certainty "Maybe, the be the heaven, the angels, the be the God inside me, maybe the be home."

I keep searching for the woman who delighted in a good hug, a nice back rub, the opportunity to sit together and talk; the woman who loved so much and felt so deeply; the woman who pushed me to the brink and then helped me regain my balance and find joy in relationship, in love that 'trusts and delights in all things', in pure light.
But I realized, as I sat in the dark last night, surrounded by candles as we kept vigil, I was truly privileged to have even known such light. And, in truth, I could only understand the light because of the darkness. Let me tell you about my friend Angela.

Angela was born in Cheticamp in July of 1979. She was the first of two daughters to Bernie and Dorine. Angela was born with a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy, found only in the Acadien population. She wasn’t expected to live past the age of 5. However, Angela was rarely interested in the expectations of other people. Angela moved to the SOS Children’s Village and then, in 1998, she found home at L’Arche. She graduated from high school in Whycocomagh, and shortly thereafter she began work at the Workshop. She is known internationally for her beautiful aprons and blessing jars.

She is known, in my vivid memory as the woman who reduced me to tears on more than one occasion. I know her as the woman who stole my heart, and every now and then tried her hand at breaking it. I know her as the woman who loved others deeply, and loved to a depth where she needed to challenge and risk great loss. In my relationship with Angela, I just kept coming back for more and she was always there, waiting for me.

We often speak of how being with others who know weakness allows us to touch our own weakness, and this was certainly true in my relationship with Angela. She herself had lived life to the edge, and she took me there with her – in the weakness, in the violence, in the utter sadness, in the darkness and then – in the joy. Angela’s joy could overtake her entire body – her feet would dance, her wrists would move in circles, her tongue would stick out and her face would turn red. It was as if every fibre of her being was involved in what she was feeling. She was unafraid to share her joy – to repeat the cause of her excitement several times over – allowing her light to shine brightly.

I know for certain that Angela would have appreciated the 'party' that’s been taking place over the last few days. She would have loved the beautiful flowers, the pretty dresses, the stories and the songs. She would have loved the opportunity to pray together and to talk about God within us. She would have loved the candlelight and the cards. But perhaps most of all, Angela would have enjoyed the good friends, the family – all those who have phoned, sent messages, traveled to be here – people who obviously shared in her light.

And, Angela’s light will continue to shine – as the stories continue, as the songs linger, as we are able to bask in joy and beauty and find in our relationships the depth that comes with true love.

Despite the darkness that may linger with so many of us, Angela’s message was so clear "It’ll be ok. Don’t worry about it."

I leave you with a poem that Angela and I often read before she went to sleep – Angela’s beautiful life was her message – showing that the darkness will pass and beauty remains.

The night will never stay,
The night will still go by,
Though with a million stars
You pin it in the sky;
Though you bind it with the blowing wind
And buckle it with the moon,
The night will slip away
Like a sorrow or a tune.

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