I have an old friend who was told some time ago he had six months to live. We live far apart now and he told me about this in an email shortly after the doctor told him. The six months passed some time ago. He hasn’t mentioned it again.
Recently, however, he sent me an email that made me sit up straight. Maybe it’s the season of Lent, in addition to his terminal condition, that prompted this email, so different from the others he has sent over the years. I have yet to respond. I don’t know what to say. Perhaps you will understand once I tell you what he said.
He said that at church recently he started to have a recurring vision. He could see every soul God had ever created in a never-ending line—a vast Continuum of Light, as he calls it. All of them are waiting for the Second Coming.
Let me say up front my old friend is a very practical man, a former vice president of two major retail companies, a father, grandfather and great-grandfather. He has never shown any signs of delusions or anything signaling the possibility of dementia or some other ailment that might come with age.
The man I knew when we were professional beggars together for a charity would never have talked about a vision. He wouldn’t have wanted people to think he was crazy or in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease.
In this email, however, he was quite explicit. He said that each soul in the Continuum has its own vibrant essence. People in the line include Abraham, Noah, Julius Caesar, King Arthur, Mother Teresa, some people you might expect to see as well as some you might not. They have one thing in common: They’re all in line waiting for the Second Coming.
There are ordinary souls in the Continuum as well. Most of them were probably rarely noticed in their lifetimes. My friend says he doesn’t know these people but they are interspersed with the famous people--right there with those well known for having led exemplary lives and those known for leading lives quite the contrary.
He said his relatives and others he knew in life are in the line--grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, classmates, teachers, colleagues from work and friends. They’re aware they exist and that they can, at the minimum, listen to those on Earth who remember them or try to communicate with them.
Before he was told he had six months to live, my friend had already been attending daily Mass. He says a group of people arrive every day early enough to say the rosary before Mass. It’s during and after the rosary, he says, that he sees the people in the Continuum.
Each bead of the rosary, he says, brings up the face of a different person. He pronounces their names and asks that the mercy of God be upon them whether they are living or dead.
Perhaps to help me understand better what he is dealing with, my friend passed along the words of an elderly Benedictine nun from a monastery with whom he and his wife have been in communication for a long time.
She told him her "favorite image of death is simply stepping out of the shower. We are clean, warmed, refreshed and brand new. There is new life awaiting our next step into that giant towel of well-being. Clothed in light, there is no shame, only grace.”
My friend’s closing thought in his email is that this will be a special Lent for him and he looks forward to Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. He doesn't have to say why it is special since this Lent may indeed be his last.
And whatever it is that he sees every day while saying the rosary, it must be there for him even if it is something you and I and others cannot imagine. But who knows what we may see if we are ever told we have six months to live. And who knows what might happen if we begin to pray as often as my friend does now while waiting for the end.