Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hurt, Healing and Hearts

I recently had the bounty of speaking at a gathering at the University of Winnipeg. This meeting was a prelude to the G8 World Religious Leaders Summit, which itself comes right before the political leaders summit, sometimes known as the G-pick-a-number.

That evening, the three speakers addressed the three topics chosen as foci by the religious leaders for their meeting at the same university: poverty, the environment, and peace. The first was addressed by a Muslim, the second by myself, and the third by a Mennonite. There were many people of various faith backgrounds, a Member of Parliament, and university students, as well as a few children, including Shoghi. It was truly a wonderful gathering.

The talk I gave was a fairly short one, all things considered, and I had a lot of help with it.

Now, while I could reprint the talk I presented, I will, instead, write a short bit about something that happened on the way home. Besides, as I'll be extrememly short of time over the next few weeks, I can save that talk for another article when I don't have a few free minutes.

One of the organizers was a gentleman named Tom. As a nod to his humility, I will refrain from mentioning that his last name is Faulkner, for I wouldn't want to embarrass him.

Tom, and this is what Shoghi asked about on the way home, suffers from an ailment in which his lungs are not able to process as much oxygen as before (or as needed). There is, unfortunately, no known cure. He is currently forced to carry, or actually roll, around an oxygen tank, and has to wait about ten minutes after walking a short distance to catch his breath. I was very grateful that we had a car that evening, for we were able to offer Tom a ride home. Shoghi was so happy to be able to make that offer, for he has really come to love Tom, even though they only met for a few minutes.

Shoghi asked me, as children are wont to do, if Tom was going to die.

"Yes," I said, "but whether it is in a few months or a few years, I don't know."

"But Father," he said, with tears in his voice, "I love him. I don't want him to die." And then a moment later he added, "And, Father, I don't want to die."

What can you say to a child on the brink of tears when he says something like that? I decided to side-step the second part and focus on his love for Tom. (Yeah, I can be a coward at times. Besides, I knew it would give me a few moments to think before he could go there again.)

"That is very sweet, Shoghi," was my response, "so why don't we say a prayer for him?"

I thought we might include a special prayer for Tom that evening as Shoghi was getting ready for bed, but he had another idea. There in the car, he immediately started in with a very heartfelt rendition of "Thy Name is my healing". I say rendition, because it's never quite the same whenever he says it, but it is always recognizable. And this time it brought tears to my eyes, not just because it is such a lovely prayer, but because I could feel the pain that Shoghi was feeling at the loss of someone so dear. He really was quite passionate in his appeal for healing.

When he finished his prayer (for the third of fourth time in a row) we arrived at home. Shoghi didn't say a word, and I, for the life of me, couldn't think of anything to say either, although my mind was racing for something. We went inside, silent (which is something of a miracle for either one of us, much less both together), and I followed him as he headed straight upstairs. With nothing more than a slightly furrowed brow, evidently deep in thought, he did all his going-to-bed things while I sat in his room waiting. Eventually he came back in and climbed into bed without me having to say anything (yet another little miracle that was much appreciated).

As he lay himself on his pillow, I knelt on the floor next to his bed and just watched as he continued to stare up at the ceiling.

"Papa," came the tiny voice, "can I ask you a question?" He hadn't called me Father, so I knew he wasn't too traumatized by all that was going through his little mind, or giant heart.

"Papa, what is death?" I knew that we would talk about this sooner or later, but I didn't expect it when he was only five. And as soon as he asked the question, a quote from 'Abdu'l-Baha came to mind: "How does one look forward to the goal of any journey? With hope and with expectation. It is even so with the end of this earthly journey. In the next world, man will find himself freed from many of the disabilities under which he now suffers."

"That's a very difficult question to answer, Shoghi. First, you have to ask what is life before you can say what death is, because death is when life ends. Some people feel that life is a time to get things, like toys. Other people feel that life is only about what you feel, like hot or cold, or happiness or sadness. But I think that life is like a journey and death is the goal, like the goal a journey." He didn't say a word, but I could sense that he was thinking about what I was saying, paying very careful attention. "Sometimes, when we drive, we just go out and enjoy the scenary, but other times, when we drive, we are going somewhere. Then there are the times that we go and enjoy the drive without knowing where we are going, but we still end up somewhere wonderful. Life is like that. We go along, doing what we need to do, but we don't always know where we are going."

It seemed that he was remembering those times that we drove like that, just seeing where we would end up. And he, of course, knew that every single time that we had done that, it had been a joy.

"There is another thing, Shoghi," I had said. "As we get older, our body begins to get weaker. When you are a child, like you, as you get older you get stronger and bigger, but when you get even older, then your body begins to get weaker. Do you know why?"

Without moving his head, he swiveled his eyes toward me in question.

"It is because God wants us to begin to let go of our body and allow our soul to move even closer to him. Imagine a teddy bear, Shoghi, one that you love very much. You used to have one when you were only a couple of years old, but it began to get a bit tattered and you had to decide whether to keep the old bear, or your new tiger." Shoghi has never really been all that attached to any toys or dolls, but he does have a stuffed tiger that is a lot of fun. "You had a little bit of sadness at getting rid of the bear, but it wasn't all that difficult, was it?"


"Because it was old and falling apart, right?"


"Well, that is what it is like when you get rid of the body. The body is falling apart, and hurting all the time, and you are just ready to move on to the next stage. But it is still sad for those who are left behind, because we want to see those people we love, but we have to wait, and we miss them."

"But Papa," he asked, "what happens to the soul?"

"Well, I don't really know, Shoghi, because I've never died. But I think the soul is like when we sit in the car. When we get where we are going, do we stay in the car? Or do we get out?"

"We get out, of course."

"Exactly. And when our life here on this planet is finished, we get out of the car, or our body, and walk up to God's home, our new home."

I had thought about talking about the foetus in the womb developing its body, and so on and so forth, but that just didn't feel right. Shoghi has been thinking a lot about our upcoming trip to our new home in Victoria, so this seemed more appropriate.

He smiled, with a bit of sadness in his eyes, but a bit of joy, too.

"Shoghi," I asked quietly, "will you miss Winnipeg when we leave?"

"Yes, Papa."

"Do you think all of your friends here will miss you, too?"

"Yeah, I guess."

"But you'll still remember them, and they'll still remember you. Maybe someday you'll even see each other again, right? Death is like that, full of sadness and expectation."


  1. It is with deep sadness that I learned of Tom's passing this morning. He is much loved and will be dearly remembered.

  2. Your reflections are a marvelous tribute to Tom and a source of richness for a five year old.

    Blessings on you and your family as you move.