What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him. —1 Corinthians 2:9
When my grandchildren go to the playground, they often don’t want to leave. It used to be that when I would call out cheerfully, “Ten minutes!” they’d respond equally cheerfully, “OK, Nana!” But when I began packing up, they started delay tactics: the fussing, the occasional tantrum.
Then one day before an outing we talked about the need to make a happy ending. Believe it or not, they bought it. Now after I give the ten-minute warning, all I have to do is call out “Happy Ending!” and they skip to the car.
In November the liturgy and the autumn weather—at least in rural Missouri—prompt us to think about the end of life. We remember the saints, all souls, and those dear to us who have died. We honor military veterans who have died or risked death. And we remember that someday it will be our turn to leave this precious life. Perhaps this season also is a time to reflect on all the little deaths along the way as opportunities to practice having a Happy Ending.
Twenty years ago I discovered a wonderful book by Judith Viorst: Necessary Losses: The Loves, Illusions, Dependencies, and Impossible Expectations That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Grow (Simon & Schuster, 1986). We give up the womb for life in the world. We give up the joy (and suffering) of childhood to know the joy (and suffering) of adolescence. And so on through our prime and then our older age as we experience the gradual diminishment of some abilities while other qualities increase and strengthen—wisdom, patience, and perspective, for example—and the theological virtues faith, hope, and love. Finally, at the end of our days we depart the womb of this world to enter the bright world beyond.
Today I mourn two losses, minor in the great scheme of things but still real. One is the liturgical language I’ve known since I became Catholic in 1974. I don’t have strong feelings about the nature of the changes or the whys and wherefores, but I’ll miss this familiar prayer language that has become second nature. Yet even as I acknowledge this loss, I’m pretty sure I’ll adjust to the new language and make it my own. I’m working on a Happy Ending.
The other loss I’m mourning is this column. I expected a three-year-run, so I wasn’t surprised when after four years my editor told me the December column would be my last. But it’s still a loss. When I was younger, my first reaction to losing work was panic spiced with a bit of anger—not unlike pouty kids leaving the playground. This time my first thought was, I wonder what’s next?
Most of the time we don’t see what we’re gaining until we lose what we have, and that’s hard—really hard. But faith and experience tell us it’s there waiting—the next opportunity. New life.
In November we also celebrate Thanksgiving. Gratitude should be the beginning and ending of all our prayers. For the hard times and good times, we say, “Thanks.” For what is to come, we say, “I am your servant; let it be done to me according to your word” (see Lk 1:38).