May 9, 2010

Today’s Catholic Mass Readings:
Acts 15:1-2, 22-29
Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8
Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23
John 14:23-29

A reflection on today’s Sacred Scripture:

“The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you everything.” (John 14:26)

When every fruit of the Spirit can be seen all at once in the same person, you never forget it.

I met Olivia in a conference room that was being used as a wellness area where I worked. She was one of several part-time massage therapists who gave chair massages to help employees manage their stress. The cost was $15 for 15 minutes, so I rarely indulged. But six weeks earlier from my hospital bed, it seemed the perfect extravagance to add to my “bucket list,” and now I found myself there with Olivia and her massage chair. It was a funny-looking contraption with a face rest cutout that lets you kneel weightlessly face down with a view of the tile floor.

Olivia was my age – 46; tall and physically fit. The instant she greeted me, I could see from her warm and cheerful smile, she was just as beautiful on the inside.

We immediately connected and talked about what we both loved  – running. Olivia was training for a triathalon that was only two weeks away and a marathon in five months. Thinking myself stoic, I told her about the Race for the Cure I’d be running in the following week, despite my recent ovarian cancer surgery, and our 15 minute session turned into a half-hour heart-to-heart. I was very private in those days, yet Olivia’s compassionate manner prompted me to share what I had inaudibly endured over the past weeks and was unable to share with anyone. Happily, we agreed to meet the following week for my now regular extravagance.

We converged for eight more sessions and each time, Olivia would encourage me and share her workout results with me. She was kind and sensitive to what I was going through, and seemed to know I was living vicariously through her training efforts. She gave me confidence and supported me, cheered me on and pushed me to return to the runner I was.  She was the most joyful person I’d ever encountered and had a genuine kindness that was both friendship and communion. Olivia possessed all the qualities you’d ever want in an acquaintance.

The ninth week I didn’t make it to my weekly massage. I had left work early with sudden flu symptoms that would later be diagnosed as a brain tumor.

Twelve weeks later following brain surgery, I returned to work, but frustrated with my training restrictions, didn’t visit Olivia right away.

In a few weeks, I decided to call her to say hi and see how she fared in the October marathon. An unfamiliar voice answered, saying Olivia no longer worked there.  I decided to go for my massage anyway.

I climbed into the chair, pressed my face into the cut-out and looked down at the polished floor, hoping the woman wouldn’t notice the craters in the back of my head. There was another massage taking place that day, so the two therapists chatted back and forth while I relished my massage. Finally, I interjected to ask whether either of them knew where Olivia was working now.

“Olivia died,” they answered simultaneously.

“Didn’t you know she’d been battling cancer for the last year and a half?” the woman asked.  I tried to speak, but my voice trailed off in disbelief. I sat up in the chair and looked at them. They smiled back at me, “Even her funeral was happy,” one of the women said.  She’d never seen anything like it, recalling the hundreds in attendance.  There were no flowers, only scores of yellow, smiley-face balloons around her casket; “They were everywhere.” she said.

I was stunned. I poked my face back into the chair and unexpectedly, my tears began to fall to the floor like large water beads from a leaky faucet that wouldn’t shut off. I sobbed quietly and uncontrollably while the women recounted Olivia’s death, unaware of the emotion taking place beneath them. Through my tears I thought how, despite her suffering, Olivia carried on with the help of God’s amazing grace, accepting every fruit of the Spirit – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23) and gave them away as gifts to everyone she met.  Incredibly, God had blessed me to be one of them.  Thank you, Olivia, I thought.

By now, a small puddle had formed on the shiny floor beneath me, and in it I wanted so badly to see Olivia’s reflection smiling back at me. Instead I saw mine, soaked with tears. Tears for Olivia. And tears for me.

“Love is itself the fulfillment of all our works. There is the goal; that is why we run: we run toward it, and once we reach it, in it we shall find rest.” – St. Augustine

© Elizabeth A. Tichvon

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