A Word in Season
Cheating Death, Growing in Gratitude
In a nanosecond I saw my life pass before my eyes as an oncoming, out-of-control Camaro crossed into my lane. I did all I could to avoid the impact, while thinking, "Oh, God, this is how I'm gonna die."
But then I didn't. The pulverizing sound of the crash was less frightening that the thought of what we would look like afterward. The little economy car was totaled. Despite a severe whiplash and bruises, I managed to get out from behind the crooked dash, unbuckle the children in the back seat—crying and shaken but okay—and walk away.
That day, and for weeks after, I grew in gratitude for the preciousness of life amidst harrowing flashbacks and "what if's?"
Five years later I faced doctors telling me I had breast cancer. At first I was misdiagnosed, so it took time to determine what was really going on. Four surgeries cleared up the mystery, changing me in ways physical and spiritual.
And, again, I grew in gratitude for the preciousness of life amidst the narrow razor margins signifying a good versus bad prognosis.
I felt like I had cheated death for the second time, through no power of my own; I reveled in the Lord's provident bounty. Indeed, that year Thanksgiving became more than just a national holiday to celebrate with family and friends. It was a deeply personal one. And every birthday and anniversary after that became miraculous milestones, mini-Thanksgivings.
The first Thanksgiving celebration in Plymouth in 1621 marked the successful harvest season following the survival of fifty-three remaining "pilgrims" coming to a foreign land and making a new settlement, despite the tragic loss of some of their number. Still, the need to give thanks in a tangible way was no less overwhelming: to affirm the preciousness of life.
Maybe you have felt the close shave of death in your life, or that of a loved one? It is unforgettable, and the need to memorialize presses in on us. I'm told veterans who've seen combat, and civilians of war-torn nations have a deep need to gather and share their stories with willing listeners.
These death-defying moments cry out for recognition. And so we baptize them with ritual and stories told over and over. Not because we are moribund or have a death wish; no, precisely the opposite.
We were made for life and for the living of it.
Death may be a scary specter to our mortal sensibilities, yet we sense the preciousness of life supersedes its fragilities. The human person intuits a glorious existence, if not in what we know now, but what is to come.
God so love the world that he gave us his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life (Jn. 3:16).
November is the month of holy souls in the Catholic Church; we recall those who've left this life ahead of us, who are still in need of purification and movement on to the fullness of glory. We pray that they may come into the fullness of eternal life. We pray too for ourselves. Such mindfulness should impart to us that we too possess an eternal elasticity and destiny.
Pat Gohn is a Catholic writer, speaker, and the host of the Among Women Podcast and blog. Her book Blessed, Beautiful and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood is published by Ave Maria Press. Subscribe to “A Word in Season” via email or RSS.