Saturday, October 01, 2005

A Eulogy for a good man, Pope John Paul II

The first words of John Paul II’s Papacy were “Be not afraid.”

Be not afraid seems an odd saying for someone who survived the Nazis, being forced to work around the chemicals that gave him Parkinsons, and later went into an underground seminary to become a priest in Poland under the Evil Empire of the USSR; at a time where thousands of nuclear missiles were spread over the globe, people must have thought he was crazy.

This must sound even stranger in a post-9/11 world of security checks and color-coded alerts. After all, three thousand people died on 9-11 alone, and there’s an average death a day in Iraq. Be not afraid? In October 2002 alone, someone filed a lawsuit for being born; the World Health Organization decided that 50% of the world’s violent deaths are a result of suicide. We've seen snipers, terrorist attacks, two wars, Iraq wanting nuclear weapons, North Korea having nuclear weapons (provided by Pres. Carter and Clinton), a deficit, a recession.

What’s not to be afraid of? North Korea, Iran, nuclear bombs, sniper serial killers, terrorists…

We live in a world racked by fear, solipsism and despair, but we still have this Polish priest in a white dress saying, “Be not afraid.” Is he nuts?

Now looks back on the over the past two years. Remember 9-11 not for airplanes, but for the lines of blood donors that wound around the block; not for those who died on impact, but those uncounted civilians who died because they when into the fire; not for three planes, but the one lone plane in a Pennsylvania field and the passengers who knowingly died so that others may live.

Iraq and Afghanistan fell in a matter of two and a half months with minimum casualties [losing and retaking the Philippeans in WW2 cost us 60K dead, keep it in perspective]; estimates say that the fall of Saddam saved almost a million Iraqis who would’ve died from starvation under his regime, and the Middle East seems to think that democracy is fashionable, and should be implemented before the Iraqis can do it first. And at the moment, over 65% of the al-Qaeda command structure resides in Cuba...that we know of.

The serial sniper was caught and captured in about a month. We still haven’t fired a shot at North Korea . Does it even matter that the economy is on the rise and that more people have more spending money?

For those of you who watch too much CNN, let me point out something that the news doesn’t: we live in a world of abundant goodness and light. The attacks of September 11 made me numb, but I was moved to tears by the lines of blood donors, the massive amounts of volunteers to dig through the rubble, the sudden fashionablity of patriotism, and the courage and sacrifice of the men and women of Flight 93.

What is there to be afraid of? Death? If you believe in religion, there’s nothing to be afraid of in Heaven or reincarnation. Those who don’t believe in an afterlife see death is a long, dreamless sleep.

What is there to fear? Life? In a world where such creatures as firefighters exist, and new wonders await each day, where is the curse in living?

At an Irish fair in Coney Island, I once saw a mug. It said:

"There are only two outcomes; either you’re employed, or you’re unemployed. If you have a job, there’s nothing to worry about; if you don’t have a job, you’ve either got your health, or you don’t.

If you have your health, you can always find a job later and you have nothing to worry about; if you don’t have your health, you can either get better or not.

If you get better, there’s nothing to worry about; if you don’t, you either go to Heaven or not.

If you go to Heaven, there’s nothing to worry about, and if not, you’ll be so busy shaking hands with all of your old friends that you won’t have time to worry about anything else."

Be not afraid.

Why? Because. Life is not suffering. Annoying and frustrating, certainly, but not suffering. There are events that have driven us up one wall, down another, crazy, frustrated, drained, and darned tiring. But are we truly suffering?
The man who taught me this died in April this year.
Pope John Paul II.

We all knew he was dying of Parkinson's, and between an infection and ending up as a drooling idiot, he went the better way.

My problem was that I've researched the man. I KNEW him.

How he his nickname growing up, he was Lolek (Charlie) to the Jewish kids in his Ghetto with whom he played soccer; how he grew up on the block just over from the Jewish Ghetto.

How he worked with Cardinal Sapheia of Poland to smuggle Jews out of the country, hiding them in his underground seminary.

How he would entertain people in secret play performances.

How his plays were focused on the spoken word because they didn't have sets when he grew up... and even when he was grown up.

How he played the piano to entertain through WW2 and the Cold War before heading into the seminary as a young man.

How, as a Bishop, he accidentally skied across the Polish border by accident.

And who could forget how he stepped out onto the balcony and spoke in broken Italian that "I am not familiar with your.... with OUR language. But if I misspeak, you will correct me." And when he returned home, how his opening message was "Be not afraid." It was the message of his papacy and his life, and God knows he lived it. The Soviets tried to kill him, and with three bullets to the chest, one missing his aorta by a millimeter, one can understand why he thought that Mary herself redirected the projectiles. With ballistics like that, I too would say that "One hand fired the bullets, and another hand guided them." And I will miss him. He was a man whose character I could never created in fiction, but someone who I will ever strive to be. Someone who would not go quietly into that good night, because life is a good, not an evil. Despite the risk of turning into Terri Schiavo [remember her, world? Remember how we watched her starve and die of thirst on national television?] the Pope made sure to take his feeding tube.

Someone said of Graham Greene upon his death that "He is in our Father's house, but he is not happy." I KNOW that Karol, Lolek, the Holy Father, the man Fr. Andrew Greeley called "The Pope who smiles"... he's not only in our Father's house, he's probably cheering up Graham Greene.

And we will not be afraid to live, because he was not. He taught us how to live: to the fullest of our minds and our hearts and ours souls. He taught us how to die: fighting, kicking and screaming every step of the way.

And we will not be afraid.

Because he wasn't.


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