Mark Shea: In memory of our friend Angie

PHOTO: Aaron Burden/Unsplash

Our friend Angelita died this past Monday, January 29. My wife had known her for decades and she was a friend of the family for as long as there has been a family to be friends with.

Jan got to know her because her work has been with people with disabilities most of her adult life. Jan has a heart the size of Mount Rainier and so naturally she was drawn in her work to finding a way to care for people. One of the first gigs she got after we were married was helping with independent living for folks who had been institutionalised or otherwise incapacitated by injury and who now sought a way to live on their own (but with a bit of help from the community).

Angie, a lively Filipino firecracker, had suffered an aneurysm and had some cognitive and memory issues. Jan helped her set up on her own and they became good friends. Angie was, in most ways, a simple soul. She enjoyed life and shouted things like “Ay, carumba!” when she got excited (which was frequently). She was, like most Filipinos, a Catholic though her education was very limited. She was generous, though poor most of her life. Indeed, she was known to many of the people around her as a soft touch and they often took advantage of that to fleece her. She found it hard to say no to those she thought were in need.

Angie married a sweet man named Bill who was a veteran of the Navy. He too had suffered a brain injury from a beating he got in a robbery in Mexico. He could not recall the incident at all but it left him physically impaired and with slurred speech. But it did not affect his heart at all and he and Angie loved each other dearly. They were such a cute couple. He was quiet and friendly. She was outgoing and vivacious.  But they fit and it was lovely to see.

Then the day came when she called to tell us that Bill had died suddenly. It broke your heart to see her without him. He had left her a house and she had enough money squirreled away that she could see to her needs well enough, but woman does not live by bread alone and her loneliness was palpable. Jan would visit her and Angie would set out a cup of coffee for herself, for Jan, and for Bill. As it evaporated with the heat, she would tell herself that Bill was drinking it.

The “friends” who knew she was a soft touch soon returned and started talking her out of her money. She did not have all that much to start with and soon she was losing it to these people. So the state stepped in and, with Angie’s consent, agreed that Jan should become her guardian to help her manage her money

Eventually, Angie developed Lou Gehrig’s Disease and had to go back into assisted living. The last time she came to our house was at Christmas. She could no longer lift her arms and had to be fed. But she was glad to be part of the festivities.

Angie did not live a life of fame. She never starred in a movie or won an election or made a medical discovery. The world will not look back on this time and remember her. She did not walk among the Great Ones as the world conceives of greatness. And yet, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no flesh might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor 1:27-29).

Our faith absolutely insists that, as Jesus hung on the cross, as he died, and as he rose again and ascended to Heaven, Angelita was in the absolute centre of his thoughts—as though she were not merely the most famous person in the world, but the only one who ever existed. All the gigantic labours of God in the creation and redemption of the world were not, in the final event, about the Roman Empire or the Renaissance flowering of literature, or the winning of World War II or the exploration of the Moon, or the fame of Leonardo’s art, Beethoven’s music or Donald Trump’s hair. It was all for Angie. Everything in all of human history was leading up to the moment this little Filipino firecracker opened her eyes to the Beatific Vision and was welcomed into her Father’s presence and the embrace of her Mama Mary with the words, “Welcome Home. Well done, thou good and faithful!”

C.S. Lewis tells the shocking truth about Angie—and us—in his great sermon, The Weight of Glory, when he says:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.

And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner – no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat – the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself is truly hidden.

 

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