Bro. Brian Poulin
Saturday after Ash Wednesday
We live in a time of large-scale tragedy. Even as the coronavirus pandemic seems to be winding down, war is building up in eastern Europe and may threaten to spill across further national boundaries. Although these harsh realities get a lot of press, perhaps we have always lived in times of large-scale tragedy.
That’s not the whole story though, is it?
For one thing, each large-scale tragedy consists of multitudinous personal ones. Although it’s been said that the ultimate mark of one’s humanity is the ability to weep at statistics, most of us are most deeply affected by that which hits closest to home. I suffered one of those personal losses early this past month.
I was by no means the only one affected by the sudden death of Bro. Ernie Beland. He had a rich network of people who cared about him: family members, his fellow Marist Brothers, former colleagues and students. Each of us carried our particular grief in very personal ways however—as it always is.
Some of us had a grief that was initially blunted by shock only to grow over time. Mine was sudden and overwhelming. After all, Ernie had been both a friend and a mentor to me. He had been a valuable support in some of my early years as a Marist Brother, and I’d thought that things had evolved such that it was now my turn to take care of him. That’s not how it worked out though, at least not for very long.
This is not an occasion to dwell on sorrows, however. As sad as Ernie’s death was for all of us, his heart attack also brought him freedom from all the concerns that he carried so heavily. He was such a lovable and beloved figure of near-infinite jest that laughter regularly interrupted my tears from the first day of my grief. Aside from the joking banter that he knowingly bestowed upon us, Bro. Ernie was a true character. He’s the only teacher I ever knew who would never make a single photocopy during the school year… because back in June he had already made all the worksheets and handouts he would need for the whole year.
The Gospel of Christ promises us eventual freedom from our suffering, but it takes a whole lot of letting go to get there. It’s quite telling that when Jesus rose his friend Lazarus from the dead, he had to instruct the onlookers to unbind him from his funerary wrappings. Ernie’s shuffling off of this mortal coil was an unsought liberation for him as well. The healing process of my mourning has been to gradually learn to let go of my feelings of grief—once they’ve found their expression—so that I can move forward in life, sharing his memory with others.
There’s a fire in the ashes and a rising in the dying. While I believe this is true in a supernatural sense, I have been fortunate to actually live it in our natural experience.
This month’s ‘ear candy’ is a song of grief from the musical Les Misérables. It came to my mind when I saw Bro. Ernie’s place at the dinner table still set even days after his death. The ‘brain food’ is a reflection on the importance of maintaining and nourishing our humanity in spite of any tragedy, global or personal.
Ear Candy: “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer, performed by Eddie Redmayne
Brain Food: “My Synagogue Was Attacked, but I Will Never Stop Welcoming the Stranger” by Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker
Come back on the first Saturday of next month for a new post!