We live in the interstices. One thing ends, another begins. A season ends and a season begins. A day ends and a new day begins. A job ends and a better job begins. A relationship ends, another begins. A life ends, other lives begin. We mark time by endings and beginnings – birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, weddings, reunions, holidays, decades, deaths – all marked on a calendar with dates, times, and places, often captured in photographs and remembered with stories.
It was Sister Mary Corita Kent, the artist/nun who said, “Do you see how every end is in itself a beginning?” That quote has been attributed to numerous people from Buddha to Seneca to Marianne Williamson. I’m going with Sr. Corita because I heard her use it in a speech. She was talking about innovation in design and education and because she and I were both opposed to the war in Viet Nam, we had a common connection, a communion. Here’s her text that accompanies a piece of hers now in the Harvard art museum called “Stop the Bombing”
“Stop the bombing / I am terrified of bombs, of cold wet leaves and bamboo splinters in my feet, of a bullet cracking through the trees, across the world, killing me-there is a bullet in my brain, behind my eyes, so that all I see is pain I am in Vietnam who will console me? from the six o’clock news, from the headlines lurking on the street, between the angry love songs on the radio, from the frightened hawks and angry doves I meet a war I will not fight is killing me–I am in Vietnam-who will console me? I am in Vietnam-who will console me? “
Like other wars that dragged on, it had a beginning and an end and we endured, by protesting until the end on April 30, 1975. That war began the year that I graduated from high school and started college, in 1955. It was some time around 1967 that I met Sr. Corita and we shared our common concerns and activities in the areas of social justice. I found a lot of support for my work in the 60’s from various religious people including the Jesuit brothers, Dan and Phil Berrigan. They and Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, were the founders of CALCAV (Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Viet Nam) and I was an active member as a clergyman. That coincided with my meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 and he was also a vocal opponent to the war. My religious affiliation with the Church had a beginning and an end. The official beginning was April 6, 1962, and the end with the organized Church, in many different forms, was in 1985. My spiritual journey continues although without the benefit or burden of an organization.
As I write this, my wife’s mother is “in transition” between life and death, a term that Hospice uses to describe the process of someone leaving this life in the final hours, or days, as they come to the end of life as we know it. Her mother, at 107, has said several times in recent weeks that she is ready and knowing that she will not walk again or be able to be mobile has weakened her resolve to live without the qualities of her life that she loved so much. An inveterate world traveler, author, matriarch, and a woman of independent mind and spirit, we will celebrate her life again soon. We have come to love her stories that cover a century of a life lived well and many of these stories will get another hearing in the near future.
P.S. Edit: The next day, 10/21/21 around 11 PM, she made the final transition and her life on this earth ended peacefully in her sleep as she breathed her last.