July 13, 2006
Today I will lay aside, reluctantly, commenting on Tuesday's rush-hour massacre of over 200 civilians in India. I will delay a worthwhile discussion of the present mayhem in the Middle East. I will let others make sense of Bob Novak's revelations about Karl Rove and Ambassador Wilson. I will postpone a conversation about Russia and China's counterproposal for a resolution against North Korea's shenanigans.
Instead I will tell you a true story of a beautiful couple — college friends of mine — who this week suffered the greatest trial imaginable, the death of their five-year-old son, crushed under the wheels of a car they themselves were driving.
The family's five other children witnessed the heartbreaking event.
Under almost any other circumstance I would keep this private. But that's not the way the family would want it. They have lived with and for others, as the overflow crowd at Monday's wake testified. The service memorialized the story of a boy named Joshua, loved dearly by his brothers and sisters, playmates, and all who knew him.
The sidebar story at this wake, however, almost eclipsed the sadness. Joshua's mother, Regina, stood in front of the congregation with head held high. It was the unassuming strength that comes from true humility. She started out like this, word for word.
“Every parent's worst nightmare is to lose a child. When you become a parent, when your child is born, you sit there with this tiny, vulnerable infant in your hand and the fragility of life overwhelms you. From that moment on, in every waking moment, you are vulnerable because you care so deeply, so very much about this little life intrinsically connected to your own. Every danger or hurt you encounter yourself is magnified because you see it on some conscious level as a threat to that little being who smiles up at you.”
That's how much she loved Joshua. This is how much she hurts now.
“What happened to Joshua was, literally, my worst nightmare. The one trial that I prayed that God would spare me from was hitting someone's child with my car. God, in His strange and mysterious mercy, has not chosen to spare me that trial. Pray for me.”
Those were the only words about her. The rest of the extensive eulogy that followed was about her son. As this loving mother told story after story about Joshua's boyish adventures of swords, battles, and being a warrior, about his delicate spirit, his love for each one of his brothers and sisters, and even the cute crush he had on the girl next door, I am sure the attention of those in attendance, like mine, darted back and forth from the memory of Joshua to the amazing parents who stood in front of that church.
In Regina and Andrew there was no self-pity; there was no hiding in unfounded guilt.
I've reflected on the stories Regina told, and in them I've found the reason why this suffering mother stands so tall. Her time and life was all about others. Here are more of her words as she shared poignant memories:
"'Mom, come and look at my train track!'" he would yell down the stairs. And I made a personal commitment to myself that no matter how busy I was, no matter how fantastic the story I was typing on the computer was, I would always go and look. I am so glad I did.”
Then came the clincher. It seems Joshua was beyond his years in wisdom, and likewise his mother. She told it like this:
“I remember him asking me about Jesus' death: 'Why did He have to die on the cross? Why did they take His clothes off? Why did He have blood on Him? Did it hurt? Why did the soldiers do that to Him?' And I would give him the answers over and over again:
He did it because He loves us. He did it because He is always with us. He did us to help us because He knew we would suffer. So that we would know that our God also knows how to suffer. He is always so close to us, especially when we suffer.”
And then she looked out onto the congregation:
“I know Joshua is so close to Jesus now. And so are all of us, who are suffering without him. Just thinking about Joshua makes me smile. I am so glad to have known him, so glad and proud to have been his mom. I will always miss him, and I will never forget him.”
And she concluded:
“I cannot imagine our lives as a family after this day. But I will go on, and we will go on.”
Regina and Andrew, thank you for showing us this window into your soul. In life, Joshua was a blessing to you. In his death, he is a blessing to us, to so many of us. And so are you.
God bless, Father Jonathan
P.S. I was informed of this tragedy while working on a book about suffering — how to understand and live courageously with it. Many readers have shared with me their own stories, ones similar to the one above. Thank you for your trust. You are not alone.
P.P.S. Joshua's parents have informed me they are currently building a website in remembrance of Joshua. As soon as I have the site address I will add it right here at the bottom of this entry.
Write to Father Jonathan at firstname.lastname@example.org.