Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Perspective III

The first four


The first four O'Malley girls, L to R: Erin, Eileen, me, and Karen behind me.


My sister Erin was the first in my family to go to college, and the next two in line, Eileen and I, followed her directly to Loyola.


How to describe Erin? I remember visiting Erin when I was a high school junior, and she took me to a Marxist Society meeting. Even at that young age, she was already a political conservative, but she was interested in things, and unafraid of the unfamiliar. Instead of taking core 101 requirements, she took graduate level theology classes---because she was interested. She had and still has an insatiable appetite for learning, discovering, and living life to its fullest.


I have several stories about Erin's role in my freshman year, but I'll limit myself to just one: DeNiro's "The Mission" was playing on campus, a rare opportunity to see it on the big screen years after its release. I begged my roommates and friends to come, but ended up going alone. When the lights came up on the mostly empty audience, I remember delighting in seeing my sister alone on the other side of the room. So often, Erin gave me that gift---of showing me it was more than okay to follow your interests, to go to the beat of a different drum. 


She had a unique group of friends, who could go from a serious discussion of the Cubs in one breath to a light-hearted debate of Aquinas in the next. I adored them all. Based on them, I assumed everyone at college would be smart, witty, and passionate about making the world better. I eventually recovered from my disillusionment, but it took time.


Dan O'Neill was part of her group, and he passed away last week from brain cancer. His wife Jodi was Erin's college roommate. I haven't seen either of them since they graduated, so in my mind, they are still 22, young and fresh, with the whole world ahead of them.


I've lost friends of my own, people much closer to me, but my brain is having a hard time wrapping itself around this news. Maybe because he had sons still young, or because he was part of the group I idealized when I was still young. They were supposed to be invincible.


One of my favorite biblical quotes has always been:"The Kingdom of Heaven is within you." Luke 17:21


For years I misread it as meaning heaven is here on earth. I still like the notion of living so as to create a great life here, not focused on an afterlife. But this thinking of heaven being on earth had me striving hard to believe, like Candide, that this was the best of all possible worlds. I could convince myself it was so for brief periods of time, because there is so much to love about this life. Joy. Beauty. Kindness.


Ultimately the tragedies of the world would knock that notion down though. How can this world be enough, a world in which children get cancer, in which women get raped, and in which loss is inevitable? A world in which a man barely 40 gets brain cancer and his young sons have to witness him slowly lose his hold on life?


But the line reads "within you" not "around you."


Heaven, more and more, has come to mean peace of mind and connection to me. And those are within me, when I take time out to connect there.






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