Love Is Heaven On Earth
No Need To Shut Others Out
By Saralee Perel
“Love each other,” my friend Bill said to my husband and me last month at a reception after his father’s funeral. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Even though just a few moments prior, I had watched Bill help take his dad’s coffin down the church aisle to the hearse, his smile was as radiant as always. He was looking around the reception room, where scores of people from near and far were catching up and sharing memories, and he seemed at peace.
I believe Bill was feeling grateful for his community of kinship and vitally connected to all those around him.
Earlier, I had felt a self-imposed separateness. Having never been to a Catholic church, I held prejudiced ideas. I visualized a dark cloud hovering over the congregation and imagined the priest, Father Mark Hession, avowing with a commanding booming voice the severity of life and all of its gloomy parts. I figured the topic of the sermon would be our sins and what on earth we should do to repent.
Yet as the celebration of Bill’s father’s life began, I opened my eyes and my heart. Father Mark was gentle, loving, comforting and as warm as the glorious spring day. He spoke about how separations such as race, religion, age or status shouldn’t matter. “We’re in this together. There is room for us all. We are all accepted and loved.”
In a recent e-mail response to me, Father Mark wrote about “our shared diversity” in the church that day. Since he knew I was Jewish, he added, “You will always be welcomed — and safe and respected — here.” He signed off, “Shalom, Mark.”
In Bill’s poignant eulogy, he said that his father openly displayed his love for his family. “It didn’t matter whether you were a relation by blood, marriage or adoption. All of his children and their spouses were treated the same.”
It all came together, with neither Bill nor the priest knowing ahead of time that they had the same message to share, a message of love for others, no matter our different identifiers.
After receiving this message, all of us there joyously sang the words to a song I had sung as a little girl attending synagogue:
Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me.
And so I was transformed to feel united with every single person in that church.
With God as our father
Brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother
In perfect harmony.
On that beautiful day, I learned to treasure, even more, my friendships, especially my friendship with Bill.
Bill shared an experience on Facebook that took place on the last night he and his father were together. “In the last few months, it was hard for my dad to say more than a single word, so I asked questions he could answer in a simple way: yes or no, lemonade or milk, bathroom or bedroom. Before I left, I said, ‘I love you,’ and I paused and said, ‘I’m proud of you.’ My dad said, slowly, but quite distinctly, ‘I’m proud of you.’ Hearing those words at that moment was the greatest thing I could ever hope to hear.”
After reading that, I cried with sorrow.
Today, Bill’s words make me smile.