Magazine article U.S. Catholic

The Terrible Brilliance

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

The Terrible Brilliance

Article excerpt

I'll tell you a story. There was a girl named Isabel. When she was 4 years old she got unbelievably sick. When she was 5 years old she stunningly wonderfully astoundingly got well. When she was 6 years old she got even sicker than before and soon she died. She is buried on a hill out here in the West. I went to her funeral. Her coffin was small. When it was lowered into the ground at the ceremony one of the ropes slipped and her coffin tilted to starboard and her baby brother burst out laughing and then wept like I never heard a kid weep before and I am 50 years old and have heard a lot of weeping.

My wife is an art teacher for kids who are really really sick, a job filled with hilarity and pain, a job she loves, a job that makes her shiver and go for long walks in the woods. She spent much of last year doing art projects with Isabel, as Isabel got sicker and endured oceans of pain and grew more swollen and weary by the day, and just before Isabel died I came home one day to find my wife sprawled in the grass, weeping like I had never heard her weep before. I sat down on the grass and my wife said some things that haunt me still, and I think you should hear them.

She's being crucified, said my wife. Everything they do to her hurts. It's torture. Why do they torture her so? All the little crucifixions. She just accepts it. She never complains. She just stares at us with that stare from another planet. She gets crucified every day and no one can stop it. All the little children being crucified. I can't bear it anymore. They stare at me. Why does this happen? Why does this happen?

There was nothing to say, of course, so I didn't say anything, and the next day she went back up to the hospital and did art projects with Isabel, and two days later Isabel died.

You know what we never talk about when we talk about our faith? …

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