“Do not be afraid.” No phrase in the Bible appears oftener. Scripture scholars and students opine that this phrase, or its equivalents like “Have no fear”, appears three hundred and sixty five times; others go further and say, three hundred and sixty six times to affirm that every day, even in a leap year, God knowing only too well how timid we are, reassures us with this comforting and consoling message.
I am assailed by so many fears: the fear of the past, particularly those grey and gloomy areas in my life which like silent spectres standing in the stillness of the night, haunt me; the fear of the unknown future with all its uncertainties; the fear of advancing years and the growing disability it brings as my eyes grow dim, my hearing gets impaired and my body begins to slow down; the fear of sickness and suffering not knowing the form it might take and the duration it might last; the fear of being thousands of miles away from family and friends, helplessly alone to be of any help to them, or to be helped by them; the fear of taking risks and missing out on the adventure of life; the fear of failure; the fear of public opinion; the fear of making mistakes, which, in itself, could be the greatest mistake; the fear of struggling alone with others looking on as spectators at a roadside show; the fear of being forgotten, ignored and discarded; the fear of death, that final journey that one must make alone because the path gets too narrow for company; the fear of fear itself.
And speaking of the fear of death, I recall a funeral at the village church at Gellilydan which I recently attended. The little church was more than packed to capacity with no standing room even in the loft and quite a gathering standing outside. That in itself was a tribute to dear Harry who had passed away at the ripe age of ninety-one. I count myself blessed having known him for well over a decade. The last time I visited him at home I sought his blessing as is the practice in Indian culture. We not only respect but revere the elderly. After mass, we went for the burial to the family grave at the cemetery at Maentwrog. The entire family was there. It was a moving sight as the coffin was lowered into the grave. As I stood silently by the grave and peered into it, I prayed remembering the words of Blessed Cardinal Newman: “Dear Lord, teach me every day that if I gain the whole world and ultimately lose You, I have gained nothing. And if I lose the whole world and ultimately gained You, I have lost nothing!” Here, at the grave, life’s fitful fever comes to rest. All that I cling to and clasp; all that I grip and grab, all that I hold and hang on to, I need to let go, for empty handed did I come into this world and empty handed will I leave. Pastorally, I have always found conducting or taking part in a funeral like a speed breaker. It makes me slow down, if not stop. It also makes me check the distance covered and the distance that lies ahead on the road of life.
To lose someone so dear is a pain too deep for words. Wounds so deep take long to heal. Do they not? Some time later, the family narrated little MJ’s reaction to the funeral. He must have seen the grieving and the tears. With childlike simplicity he remarked: “Taid (grandfather) is not alone. He has gone to meet Nain (grandmother). And both of them are now together with Jesus!” From the lips of little ones comes wisdom. What a simple yet profound way to describe death! That must have been more than soothing balm to those adult aching hearts!