Gene died this past August, at the age of 81, after living a life with many twists and turns, periods of darkness and light, and moments of fear and love. I only knew Gene for the last four years of his life, but the story of his life and our friendship made a great impact on me.
Gene and I lived together at L’Arche, a faith-based non-profit where people with and without disabilities share life. We spent many mornings preparing for the day together, many afternoons enjoying the day, and many evenings praying in thanksgiving for the beauty of the day that had passed. I helped Gene prepare his medications and do exercises, and he helped me relax and enjoy the small moments in life. And although Gene had been hurt before in his life, by unloving caregivers and lost friends, he put his trust in a twenty-three year old girl with little life experience. Not only did Gene trust me to care for him, he trusted me to be his friend.
I was devastated when I heard that Gene had died. I’d known that he was sick and dying from cancer for some time, but, wrapped up in my own treatment regimen and life with a new baby, I hadn’t been able to visit him. I got the call that announced his death when I was driving back home from New Jersey, where I’d just met my new baby nephew. While driving, I had been contemplating the wonder of new life: how much sweet baby Charlie had ahead of him, how vast his opportunities, and how unknown his future. I prayed for him and my own son, John Paul, that they might be blessed with good health and strong hearts, and that above all else they might know they are loved. I dreamed of them graduating college and pursuing successful jobs, becoming doctors or lawyers or Nobel Peace Prize winners who cure cancer. I dreamed of them creating beautiful works of art and writing great novels. And I dreamed of them getting married and having children.
After hearing of Gene’s death, I began contemplating the wonder of his life. Gene was a man born with disabilities in 1930, during a time when disabilities were even more misunderstood than now. Gene was a man who lived many years in an institution, where he often acted as a pallbearer at funerals with no mourners in attendance. Gene was a man who eventually found freedom in the dignity of risk practiced at L’Arche. And above all else, Gene was a man who loved and knew he was loved.
I am trusting that my next PET scan will show continued shrinkage of the tumor and cancerous activity in my chest. I am optimistic that there will be no sign of cancer left in my body and that I will be called healed. And I am hopeful that the cancer will be out of my body forever. And yet, I am mindful that eventually a day will come when Jesus will call me home. I am faithful that I will join Him in His glory, in His time, not mine.
Knowing this, I often start to get anxious and wonder, “But what have I done with my life?” I worry that time is running out and that I haven’t touched anyone or made any kind of impact. I fear that if reviewed my life might appear to be unsuccessful, uninspired, and unfulfilling. I yearn to live a remarkable life.
But today, I am facing my fear of living an unremarkable life, and remembering Gene. To some, his life might be viewed as unsuccessful, since he never graduated from college, let alone attended. He never obtained a job curing illnesses or writing important memos. To some, his life might be viewed as uninspired since he never wrote great novels or created famous paintings (although he did paint, and beautifully). To some, his life might be viewed as unfulfilling since he never married or had children.
Gene did none of the things I dream about my nephew and John Paul doing. And yet, when I look back on his life, I am in awe of just how remarkable it was. If I had known Gene as a baby, I would have prayed that he would end up exactly where he did, in a home that allowed him to enjoy things he loved, such as strolling around the neighborhood and painting, and in a bed, surrounded by an unconventional family he loved and who he knew loved him.
I am still learning from Gene, even after his death. I am learning that in order to live a remarkable life, we must open up our idea of remarkable. We must trust that when we choose to love others and allow ourselves to be loved, great things will come. We might not cure cancer or create the exact family we desire or paint great masterpieces. And yet, if we pursue love and trust in God’s promise for our life, we might just become the person we were always meant to be.
View Gene’s obituary here.
My prayer for you today is that you might let go of your fear of living a life that others view as successful, inspired, and fulfilling. Strive instead to live the life you were meant to, the life God has planned for you, by opening yourself up to love, and you will find that this life is successful, inspired, and fulfilling. Remember that we all have the capacity to be saints, if we only trust in God and follow His way for us.
“When You hung upon the cross, looking at me,
You didn’t ask that I would try to be somebody else.
You died so I could be, the saint that is just me.”
Danielle Rose, The Saint that is Just Me
Listen to this beautiful song:
The Saint that is Just Me
To support an amazing artist and one of the kindest people I’ve ever met, buy Danielle Rose’s music here.
Thank you for joining me on my 31 day challenge!
Day 1: Be Not Afraid
Day 2: Fearfully and Wonderfully Made
Day 3 Keeping a Faithful Heart in Light of Suffering
Day 4: Facing Fears with Laughter
Day 5: Listening to My Heart
Day 6: Daring to Love Myself in Order to Love Others
And click here to read all the other wonderful blogs joining in on this challenge!