Approaching the Eternal

I’m writing this a few weeks after your diagnosis. It wasn’t an intimate event at all, so public and so known. It started me to thinking about you, about the role of public service and how you might heal as a public servant. I’m considering you and the things you might be dealing with. I waited to send this to you, wondering whether it was worthy. And then I saw a story last night that pushed me to send.

I’ve thought about you in the moments after your exam, after your vote on the healthcare bill, and after your remark, now, about this considerable enemy. I can’t imagine what you’re experiencing or how you’ll change, how you’ll heal. Perhaps the parade of it all can be a picture of your healing. Of course, healing may not include a cure in your case. You knew once the team explained that this might be the thing that ushered you into the rest of life, the new life, the eternal side of life. You’ll die and this may, as far as we can tell, be how you die. And then there’s the other how in how you die, the nature of your dying rather than the medical cause.

I wonder how you will respond to that slow movement toward newness. It seems that death is a bad thing to most of us. As you see it, I hope you tell us about it as much as you can. I’ve seen spiritual leaders do this, taking the notes of their sufferings and writing them into the records of their followers. I wonder if you will do something like that. Political leaders are also, simply, leaders. There’s no reason why you can’t embrace how you might offer spiritual insights as a politician. You are more than one thing.

I encourage you to tutor us in the eternal’s approach. Before you go, whenever you go, leave us with as much as you can. You’ve served honorably in so many areas of your life that it would be consistent if you did. Of course, it’s completely understandable if you decide that this final approach is a more private one. Maybe all I’m reflecting on is the paradox of living as a servant in a public way all the way til the end. Maybe you’ve already shown us how to live and how to die.

Either way, thank you, Senator McCain.

My Blog: Waiting

I have occasion to stand as a witness before, after, and when people die. The first time this happened, in my residency year two years ago, I was in the medical intensive care unit where I still spend most of my time as a chaplain.

I sat with a sister as her brother died. He was a scientist, believed nothing about the supernatural, and sitting with his sister was undoubtedly a holy moment to me. We talked together, mostly her talking and me listening. She laughed as she told stories.

Explaining that she had never imagined being a sister in this way, I heard her walk through the upset of thinking it’d be the other way around, that he would be the one who watched her breathe her last breaths. She was faithful to him in those last moments. “I won’t ask you to pray,” she had said earlier that morning. “But will you come back and wait with me?” Waiting is what I did.