Preparing to write this column, all my initial thoughts and meditations seemed dark and depressing. Reflecting on the discord in our nation, on injustice, on sickness, death and grief. That is not to say that I am not hopeful and optimistic. Even in these dark times, I am hopeful and optimistic. In its explosion of color and life, spring holds nothing but possibilities and joy.
Can’t both exist together? Isn’t there joy even in the midst of sadness and pain? Yes & yes. It’s strange to describe, but I tell friends that while my husband was confronting first one then a second cancer diagnosis, there are gifts in times of cancer. Each day brought new information, emotions, reactions, decisions, joy, pain, reflection, sadness and connection. Many people, I’m sure, have experienced this kind of accelerated living during times of sickness and death. Difficult to explain, but those who know, know.
In the way that he is, funny, sweet and irreverent, my husband, to shake me out of my dark funk, told me this story about Jesus’ dog. (Insert winking emoji).
Vatican officials disclosed an ancient document that reveals that Jesus had a dog. Yes, a furry four-legged creature that traveled with him. This might sound surprising, but the evidence of Francis, yes his name was Francis the dog, has been right under our noses for millennia. There are actually two shrouds in Turin, one with the image of Christ’s face and a second with that of Francis. Need more proof? Look closely at photographs of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper taken before the restoration. Francis can be seen under the table eating scraps that have fallen. Of course (or sadly?), the art restorations have subsequently erased the canine from the mural.
Francis was more than a pet. He was Christ’s humble friend and companion. During those 40 days and 40 nights in the desert, Francis alerted Jesus to hazards and entertained him with stupid pet tricks. Francis was more than a pet. Don’t believe me? Just look deeply into your dog’s eyes and the answer will reveal itself.
My husband went on with his story, and I got out of my funk, a little. Searching for joy and meaning in pain and suffering, exploring what this life holds, connecting and storytelling, laughing and crying. This happened a lot this year, for all of us.
Our dog died last year during the pandemic. In our grief, we remember him every day and celebrate his life and our lives together. Last year, my father suffered much sickness and pain, but he will turn 98 this July and is living a good life. We celebrate every moment of this gifted time. Two friends lost parents to COVID last year. Although sad, they move forward with hope and joy of keeping their spirit alive. There are many stories like these, for all of us.
Last week, our community came together in sadness, grief, and joy to remember a beloved member of our town. Ralph Martin, a kind, gentle, steady, and generous presence in our community, was celebrated for his life. He was extraordinary in the way he made us all feel special, and loved, and listened to, and alive through his connections and stories. Extraordinary because through his profession, repairing shoes, he cared for things. He did not discard them. He saved them. In looking at the many memories and tributes to him on Facebook and his online obituary, I see besides shoes, he rescued ball gloves and horse tack, he made improvements on boots for a first responder. He cared deeply for these things, restoring them, bringing them back to life. He cared about these things because we cared about them. The impact he had on our community as a whole and on many individuals is astounding. Thank God for his goodness. And thank God for the love, hope, and beauty that surround us.
Mel Corroto is not a pastor, but she works with many pastors and church communities in her role as director of Andrews House in Delaware.