My last boyfriend called it “stacking.” “You’re stacking,” he’d say, when he caught me unnecessarily reviewing every problem that I might possibly have in a lifetime all at once, rather than dealing with problems that were present and solvable.
He was right. Sometimes when I felt overwhelmed, I did see the glass half empty, with a crack on the lip, and a slow drip in the bottom, and no money to buy a new glass, and no gas in my car to drive to the store to buy the new glass that I couldn’t afford—and to top it off, my car was contributing to global warming, and where would we live when all the ice caps melted? You get the idea.
But in my defense, let’s face it, sometimes life does some real stacking for us. Case in Point. Last year, I’d returned to Boston, where I own a house I was trying desperately to sell. It is a gross understatement to say that I was having no luck during my visit of several weeks. I was camped out in my empty house, sleeping on a blow-up bed and eating canned tuna. It wouldn’t have been such a bad deal. But during this same time, my boyfriend and I discerned rather slowly and sloppily (these things are not always so tidy) that we were not headed for marriage. With reluctance on my side, we parted ways.
It was more than I could bear to stay there, waiting in my cold, empty house for buyers who were not arriving. I decided to return to Minnesota, where I was in graduate school, and prepare for spring semester.
Now, getting to the airport in Boston with real baggage is a Herculean task if you don’t have cash for cab fare. I ended up having to rent a car, and to complicate matters, I discovered that one of the wheels on my biggest bag had come off. It left a gaping hole in the bottom, making it precarious to pack and extremely difficult to move.
Thus, with no one to drop me off at the airport, I headed back to Minnesota, where I would shortly turn forty—brokenhearted, with foreclosure and bankruptcy looming over my single, husbandless, childless head; dragging this heavy, ugly, handicapped, one-wheeled Cyclops of a bag. (Okay, maybe a touch of “stacking.”) I arrived at the car rental counter looking more than a little rumpled and pathetic.
But God is near to the broken-hearted, and sometimes I think he likes to put skin and bones on this nearness.
Angels in the Flesh. Like the man who drove my rental car shuttle. I managed to lug Cyclops onto the van, but when the driver saw me struggling to bring it to the check-in counter with my other bags, he stopped the van, put it in park, and carried my bag all the way in for me—up a flight of steps and down a hall, the whole way. This was no easy task: The bag had to weigh nearly as much as he did.
“You’re an angel,” I said and meant it. He just smiled at me and said, “No one should have to carry the load all alone.”
Or like one of the flight attendants. A little boy was seated behind me on the plane, traveling alone, leaving his mother to return to his father who lived in another state. He was crying quietly, clearly frightened. An attendant swooped in. She sat with him, held his hand, spoke in reassuring tones. She got her cell phone and called his mother so he could chat with her while we were waiting to take off. Then another little boy, traveling with his parents, came and sat next to him. He brought games and chocolate. Ever so gently, this great, enormous sorrow was lifted, and there they were, two little boys happily playing with gadgets, talking sports and eating M&Ms.®
Angels, angels everywhere.
The Company of Heaven. As the plane left the ground, I felt an overwhelming, sharp grief, like my heart being torn from my center. Leaving this man I loved, this house and life I had had such hopes for, was more than I could bear alone.
And in the same moment, something else became as clear to me as if I could see it with my own eyes. In my heart, I saw that I was surrounded. In the aisles, standing over me, around me, hovering and entirely attentive, was a communion of saints, the crew I called in when I needed real reinforcements: Saints Anne, Elizabeth, Joseph, Pio, Joseph of Cupertino, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Ávila, the Archangels, my guardian angel, the Blessed Mother, all just hovering.
And next to me, Jesus, holding my hand and stroking my hair. And in that mystical way that you can see things with your heart, even as I was sitting there upright, he kept drawing my head to his heart and holding it there. It was warm and completely peaceful, resting with him in that posture. And while it did not alleviate any feeling of loss or grief, my heart was now being drawn straight in the direction of his heart. The assurance of Jesus’ presence, his perfect love—these things were absolute, like air, like water and fire and every element of earth and sky. Untouchably perfect. Sound and still.
Angels—and mercy—everywhere. Even on Flight 1355 from Boston to Minneapolis. Angels and saints and Jesus appearing, so that she in Row 16, Seat D, should not have to carry the load alone.
Heart to Heart. A broken heart, financial jeopardy, the great weight of longing for a family not yet come, the long work of healing ahead—these things remained. But I was given a vision that put skin and bone on my belief that heart-to-heart with Jesus is the way we find the good way forward.
It is the way these heavy, ugly burdens we drag around—immovable, awkward slabs of grief like dull granite—are lightened and lifted. They are not always removed, but they are lifted. When we are heart-to-heart with Jesus, in the company of heavenly creatures, they can take flight.
Oh gentle crucified One, when hearts are weary, you are with us and that is more than enough.
Elizabeth Kelly is pursuing a master’s degree in Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas, Minnesota. Her latest book, Heaven in You and You in Heaven, is available from The Word Among Us (1-800-775-9673; wau.org).