July 22, 2011

Emmaus Walk / Debra Tomaselli

Revelations of a summer vacation, and this adventure we call life

Debra TomaselliWhen the Mass ended, I scanned the crowd searching for Linda, a newfound friend.

During the liturgy, I spotted her sitting with her family, and her presence sent a wave of peace over me. I had to find her. I had to talk to her. I had to be reminded that everything was going to be OK.

I emerged from the church, still searching for her when another friend, Helen, found me.

“How are you doing?” Helen asked.

“OK,” I answered.

But the truth was that I was not doing OK. Fear had a foothold on me.

As Helen began talking about an upcoming art project for our children’s Brownie troop, my mind was elsewhere. I couldn’t focus on purchasing red felt and cotton balls or creative ideas for cookies and punch.

In recent weeks, I had been diagnosed with lymphoma. The diagnosis delivered fear and relief. After all, despite the news, I was healthy enough that the oncologists decided to wait to begin administering chemotherapy. That was good news, right?

But I was unnerved. The diagnosis left me feeling distracted, isolated and alone. It seemed like nobody really understood my fears.

Nobody, that is, except Linda.

When Linda learned of my diagnosis, she shared her story. Several years ago, Linda was treated for cancer. One difficult day, she said that she asked her oncologist, “Am I going to die?”

She shared his reply: “Linda, we are all going to die.”

I looked at her, absorbing the words. My other friends felt bad for me and sympathized, but they didn’t really comprehend my anxiety. But Linda knew. She got it.

All those years ago, Linda’s deep faith pulled her through, and today I needed a shred of it.

After Helen left, I scanned the dwindling congregation, hoping to find Linda, but she was nowhere to be seen.

Finally, I headed toward the parking lot, but when I passed the church’s side entrance something told me to enter it.

I shrugged it off, knowing the sanctuary was empty. Mass was over so why would I need to go inside? But the urge persisted, and I climbed the steps, reached for the door, and opened it. There, on the other side, was Linda!

When she asked how I was doing, I freely expressed my fear of my disease. She listened and nodded in agreement. I don’t recall her words, but her presence delivered an immeasurable peace.

At the end of our conversation, we headed to our cars. As I unlocked my vehicle, Linda drove by to say goodbye.

“I’m glad I got to talk to you,” I said. “I was so afraid. I felt so alone.”

Before driving off, she paused to respond. I will never forget her words. They were from the very heart of God. They resonate to this very day. And in the upcoming months they proved quite true.

“Don’t be afraid,” she said. “You are never alone.”

“And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).

(Debra Tomaselli lives in Altamonte Springs, Fla. Her column appears in several diocesan newspapers. Her e-mail address is dtomaselli@cfl.rr.com.)

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