When I was in high school in Hamilton I took the bus to school. One spring as I walked to the bus stop, I passed a young woman sitting in a wheel chair in front of her house, on the other side of the street. Occasionally we would wave to one another, a tentative, small wave. One day I walked on the other side of the street, closer to her home. We waved and smiled at one another for many weeks until school ended. She didn’t seem to be able to speak – just smiled and waved. I was too shy and nervous to ask questions of her family.
I found out later that she had multiple sclerosis. I never saw her after that spring. I wished I had known her name and tried to speak with her. She must have been around my age, afflicted by great suffering, unable to go to school. I knew nothing then about multiple sclerosis. The reality of her illness and the person she was has stayed with me.
My early childhood was during the Second World War. Parades, bagpipes, battle stories, maps, war heroes, were the stuff of my experience, imagination and reading. My father was a soldier in the Canadian army and a hero to me.
My mother was reticent about sharing her experiences. I later understood that my mother and all the women at home were heroes too – a different kind but valued and admirable – struggling to raise children and dealing with loneliness and worry for their husbands.
The Depression had almost ended when I was born. There were stories of hunger, joblessness and not wasting anything, especially food. We weren’t rich; my family experience and religion taught me that people need work, housing, food and community. It raised for me larger challenges and a searching for answers to the origin of our life and its purpose.
My upbringing was shaped by the conjunction of the three realities – the suffering of innocent persons, heroic models to imitate and the need for community and mutual support.
As I matured in understanding these realities met and continue to meet in the person of Jesus. The questions I have about the suffering of innocent people, who in freedom are models to imitate, and how to love and be part of a larger community, have been inspired, driven and, in a way, haunted by the human person of Jesus. The way Jesus suffered and continues to suffer, the freedom he lives and the generous spirit he manifests are with us today. In his humanity I see him in my own life and in those of the people who surround me. He has been the model and longing that is in my heart, no matter my failings.
I think that when people are hurt and suffering his agony on the Via Dolorosa is present. Where there is a searching, especially among our young people, for heroes and models, he is there to challenge us all … “Seek first the kingdom of God … and all these things will be added to you.”
When there is a desire for community and communion, he cries out: “I call you my friends.”
We want to know what the heart of reality is. I believe Jesus makes this incomparable richness and promise of the fullness of life known and possible. The more I work, pray, study and serve, he continues to draw me forward. The more I speak, listen and know others as my sister and brothers, the more I see his beauty. In the words of the Anglican Bishop, John Robinson, he is “the human face of God” in our midst.