Column: This love has staying power

by Father Mark Goldasich

With Valentine’s Day almost here, maybe this story can give you some food for thought:

Years ago, a nurse took a tired, anxious serviceman to a bedside.

“Your son is here,” she said to the old man in the bed.

Heavily sedated because of a heart attack, the old man could barely make out the young uniformed Marine standing outside the oxygen tent. He reached out his hand. The Marine wrapped his toughened fingers around the old man’s limp ones, squeezing a message of love and encouragement.

The nurse brought a chair so that the Marine could sit beside the bed. Throughout the night, he sat there in the poorly lighted ward, holding the old man’s hand and offering words of love and strength. Occasionally, the nurse suggested that he get up and rest awhile, but the Marine refused.

Whenever the nurse came into the ward, she would hear the Marine whispering gentle words to the dying man. The man was able to say nothing in return; he only held tightly to his son’s hand.

Toward dawn, the old man died. The Marine released the hand he’d been holding and went to tell the nurse. When she started to offer words of sympathy, the Marine interrupted her, asking, “Who was that man?”

The nurse was startled. “Why, he was your father,” she answered.

“No, he wasn’t,” he replied. “I never saw that man before in my life.”

“Then why didn’t you say something when I took you to him?” asked the nurse.

“I knew right away there had been a mistake,” said the Marine, “but I also knew he needed his son, and his son just wasn’t here. When I realized that he was too sick to tell whether or not I was his son, knowing how much he needed me . . . well, I just stayed.” (As with many stories found on the internet, this one comes without the author’s name.)

This was probably a different type of love story than you might have been expecting. For me, though, it captures a way to love that all of us can practice — no matter our age or abilities or income or marital status.

And there’s no limit to the ways to live out this love, which has real staying power. Here are a few examples to consider:

• Stay in touch. In the immediate days following a death, for example, there are plenty of people around. But what about a month or so later? Simply calling someone who has experienced the death of a loved one or dropping that person a little note several times in that first year of the loss can be a deep source of comfort.

• Stay grateful. At least once a week, remind yourself to thank everyone who, in the course of that day, serves you in some way. Being grateful to the person who delivers your mail, the sacker at the grocery store, someone who holds the elevator open, or a receptionist who schedules an appointment can help you focus on the great deal of good that still exists in the world.

• Stay calm. Each day gives us plenty of reasons to fly off the handle. Cultivating patience, understanding, and a good sense of humor can defuse many stressful situations.

• Stay around to help. Ever attend a party at a friend’s home or a function at the parish and then wonder — on the way home, of course — how long it was going to take “someone” to clean up that mess? Why not be that “someone” and offer to help put things back into shape.

• Stay alert and supportive. Sadly, there’s no shortage of troubles, both large and small, that can creep in to a person’s life. Noticing someone who is struggling and lending a listening ear (or hand) can be a lifesaver. Simply knowing that someone is thinking of our welfare brings strength and hope.

• Stay . . . a little bit longer. Don’t slink out of church after Communion or during the closing hymn. Take your time leaving, introduce yourself to someone you don’t know, mingle a while before heading to the parking lot.

•Stay healthy…so that you can do all the things above.

Growing in communion with others is a practical effect of the Holy Communion that we receive. And, as Jesus showed us through his own life, this type of love is definitely here to stay.

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