The background picture on our computer desktop is a photo of my friend’s husband, Mike Richter. Every time I go to the computer, there’s Mike, big grin on his face, welcoming me to my e-mail or my writing, or whatever I happen to be going to the computer for.
Two weeks ago, Mike would have never been chosen as the background picture on our desktop. My husband Bill changes the photo every few weeks, and rarely does anyone outside of the immediate family make the cut. Usually it’s one of the boys swinging a bat, or Teenasia jumping off a raft into the water, or Jamie in her dance outfit.
But Mike died suddenly and tragically the Saturday after Easter—hit by a car while walking his dog. And from the moment we heard of Mike’s death through the week and a half that has followed, we have thought of little else besides Mike, his wife Julie and their two daughters—one in Jacob’s class and one a year younger. So it seemed fitting—albeit a bit startling-- when I turned on the computer the Wednesday morning after his death, and Mike appeared.
If Mike were here, he’d tell you that Bill and I were not his close friends. We weren’t vacationing-together friends, or will-you-be-my-child’s-godfather friends. Rather, we were medium friends. Often at the same backyard barbecues and Christmas parties. Always at the same school events. A hug, a conversation at a gathering, a wave across the school parking lot. While Bill and I both liked Mike, I don’t remember, before he died, us ever exchanging more than a sentence or two about him. Mike was a given—a good father, doctor and coach— a kind, quiet presence. There wasn’t a lot to say.
And now he’s everywhere. I wake up thinking about him and wonder about Julie as I’m pouring my coffee. I think of his girls as my own kids are getting ready for school, and picture their dog—who also died in the accident— as I get into our van.
I found myself praying to the newly minted St. Michael after communion this past Sunday. Mostly, I asked him to help his wife Julie during this horrible time, but I also requested him to put in a good word for our family and our ongoing foster care situation.
And it’s in those two requests — in my comfort making the requests — that I begin to glimpse the eternal. How is it that I would never speak to Mike about Julie or his marriage in life, but I can do so now that he’s died? And why can I ask him to pray for T now, but wouldn’t have a couple weeks ago?
To me, the Communion of Saints that we profess as part of the Nicene Creed every Sunday at Mass is the reason. The Communion of Saints is—in its simplest terms-- relationships as God intends.
As we walk through life, time and circumstances allow us just a small circle of family and friends that we can be truly close to. Few of us have more than a handful of people to whom we could go with any question or problem. Mike definitely had that small, close group of friends and family, and they are beyond devastated by his death. They are changed forever and their grieving has just begun. Their closeness to Mike speaks to the love that God intends for all of us. Their relationship with Mike—anyone’s relationship with a loved one-- is what the Communion of Saints is all about.
Whether or not we can articulate it—to love another person is to see God in that person. To love another person is see that person as God sees him or her. When we love someone, we are privileged to experience on earth what others will need to wait for. When we love another, we experience a saint. Mike’s friends and family were able to do that in life. But relationships as God intends go far beyond the dozen or so people that each of us has as our immediate network.
And that’s where the medium friends come in. In death, the medium friends experience a flash of what the close friends feel all the time. And I believe that flash—those moments of surprising closeness to the one who has died— is a taste of what is to come. For someday, time and circumstances will not limit our relationships as they do on earth. We will not be bound by family or geography. Someday, we will have the opportunity to see all people as God sees them. We will have nothing but time—time to get to know all people and then to love all people as God loves them. Judgment, fear, and the need to stop talking to someone so we can get the laundry done will subside, and we will part of the Communion of Saints. All our relationships will be holy; none will be broken and question marks will be wiped away. Our life here gives us just a preview. Each of us is blessed to know well just a few saints. Mike now knows a lot more. He has achieved what we must still wait for. And that is why even the profound sadness of his death is tinged with the joy of this realization.
Perhaps the goal of our stay here on earth is to recognize just as many saints as we can. To see people— our coworkers, our neighbors, the hurting and needy in our midst-- as God sees them. To be as present as we can to each person we bump into in the course of a day. Not an easy task; a way of living that takes a lifetime to master.
And that is why we say—Saint Michael, pray for us.