by Sr Joan Jurski, OSF
I recently received a letter that my former assistant in the Office of Peace and Justice, Raleigh, NC had died. Phyllis was a competent and creative worker. More than a fellow worker, she was also my friend. Phyllis and I both left Raleigh eventually. She moved to Tennessee and we stayed in touch. To describe Phyllis externally one might say she was plain in dress and simple in physical appearance. To describe her internally one would say she was a woman of great faith, spiritually in contact with her God, caring and compassionate.
Phyllis was married to Stan. On the few occasions I met Stan I was rather surprised at the difference in appearance between Stan and Phyllis. I wondered about their relationship since Stan was not interested in religion. Stan and Phyllis were opposite in so many ways. His external appearance as a businessperson in coat and tie did not seem to fit the picture in my mind as the husband of a person like Phyllis. As time went on, I developed a less than positive view of Stan so it surprised me to receive a letter from him. The letter brought the sad news of her death and revealed much more. Its contents gave me cause to rethink my impression of Stan. It revealed something very different about the man and his relationship to Phyllis than I had imagined.
In his letter, Stan wrote about his wife and her last days. He said, “Driving back from the hospital on the day that we discovered the cancer was not treatable; Phyllis turned to me and said, ‘I want to do this in a way that pleases God.’ I think God was pleased with the way Phyllis lived the next 6 months after she received news that there was no cure for her cancer. She was as selfless as a human being can be. I knew the pain she suffered, since I was her caregiver. However, she never burdened anyone with that pain. During Phyllis’ last days I thought about all the people she had helped, and realized she was as close to a saint as anyone I had ever met. She passed away at home, surrounded by family. She was comfortable, brave and washed in love. I know she looks forward to seeing you in Heaven.” He bragged about her spiritual life and the strength of her faith.
My original judgement of Stan disappeared. Here was a man who loved his wife, who cared for her. This was a picture of a loving marriage relationship. How often outward appearances have locked me in judgement. I need to stop and look deeper into the humanity of a person. Today it is so easy to judge one by external appearances be it color, age, gender, youth, religious preference, or political choice.
I sat with this letter, cried, thanked God for Phyllis and thought about how often I can judge people by outward appearances. I, too, look forward to meeting Phyllis in Heaven some day and Stan as well.