Born into misconception.
For most of my young life, I was delusional about God. I lived with the misguided assumption that, if things get really bad, unfair or unjust, God, in due course, will fix it. I was not delusional about death. When your Dad dies at 49, death becomes a painful reality. I figured, however, that the death of anybody younger than 49 was something God should stop from happening.
Shortly after my arrival in Canandaigua, Pat approached me after church and asked if I would visit her daughter, Karla, at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York. Since I was a student in a seminary just around the corner from Strong, I immediately agreed to visit.
Upon arrival at the pediatric wing, I heard loud laughter rising above the normal clamor of the hospital. I asked at the nurse’s station where Karla’s room was. The nurse pointed at the room from which the noise was sounding forth. I entered and found a very lively and loud teenager, wearing huge Teddy Bear slippers, holding court. She was clearly the queen of the unit. Clearly, Karla was no stranger to the hospital.
“Why?” I wondered.
I introduced myself. Instantly, we connected. I don’t know why. We just did.
We talked. What fun! Karla was full of life, love and energy. Occasionally, she would interrupt our chat, press the call button and a nurse hustled in. Karla gave the nurse her marching orders and, upon the nurse’s exit, the fun continued, until Karla abruptly stopped talking and began to cough; a violent, all consuming cough. A nurse appeared out of nowhere. She handed Karla a large inhaler. Karla, in the gaps between her coughs, pulled in deep breaths. Slowly, the coughing lessened and, at last, ceased. In short order, Karla resumed our conversation right where she left off prior to her coughing fit.
Now I interrupted her. “That’s quite a cough,” I said.
“It’s chronic,” she replied.
Soon thereafter, I left to go to class. I stopped at the nurse’s station. “What’s wrong with Karla?” I asked.
In antiquity, there were no privacy laws. The nurse replied, “She has CF.”
I had no idea what CF was. The nurse sensing my ignorance gave me a quick lesson: “Karla has Cystic Fibrosis. She will be lucky to live until she is 20.”
Shock! Anger! A deathblow to delusion.
“Why, God, why?”
I baptized Karla. She asked me to be her Godparent.
She grew from teenager to an amazing adult. No complaining. She frequently said, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.”
I officiated at her wedding. She was so beautiful…so happy….so full of hope, but very sick.
“Fix her, God, fix her!”
Karla braved a double lung transplant. Infection set it. I was with her when she died.
She was 23.
I conducted her funeral. It was a celebration. She lived more in 23 years than most of us live in a lifetime.
The older I get, the more questions I have. The easy answers, the delusions of my youth, tumble over like dominoes. More times than I care to count, I ask, “Why, God, why?”
The silence is deafening.
And yet, to lose hope is a mortal sin.
In remembrance of Karla, I choose to get about living, not dying.
“Life is not a dress rehearsal.”
John E. Holt, Cotuit, Massachusetts