Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Angel Who Left Before Christmas

Lucia Salanti Venturi – an honorary consul with the General Italian consulate in Philadelphia – was laid to rest yesterday. Her death came as a shock to her friends and family, when she passed away at Duke Hospital on Sunday, after having fallen ill just a few days before.

Her funeral mass was held on Wednesday at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Raleigh, and it was a memorable event. There is something to be said about the beauty and depth of a Catholic service, even when the time comes to say goodbye to a lovely lady who touched the lives of so many people.

I sat in one of the back pews with my daughter, and had to swallow tears a few times. Here was a wife, mother, grandmother, sister and friend who had made Christmas plans with her family, had looked forward to seeing her grandchildren after Santa’s visit, and had probably planned to cook for an army the way Italian women always do; nothing had prepared her, or her family, for this untimely departure, and yet before anyone could even wrap their minds around the thought, she was gone.

When I saw her two weeks ago, I gave her a small Poinsettia for Christmas, and I remember she didn’t even want to accept it, and told me I shouldn’t have gone through the trouble; now, I am glad she accepted it, for it was the last chance I had to do something nice for her, even if at the time I had no way of knowing her journey was coming close to its end.

Most of us make long-term plans, and often postpone things we would enjoy until the time is right, but that time might never come – this moment might be our greatest asset, and the last chance we have to kiss our children, to tell someone we love them, to take a small vacation somewhere, or to smile to a complete stranger.

I know it has been discussed many times before, but I can’t stress enough just how important it is to forgive and forget, to live and be happy, to reach out to others and be happy for them, regardless of circumstances. So many things seem important when we weigh them on a scale of pride and ego, but in reality they have no substance.

During the mass, I couldn’t help noticing that many of the pews were empty on two sides of the massive church. It wasn’t because there weren’t enough people who had come to pay their last respects, but because during painful moments humans tend to be drawn to one another, and they instinctively pull together. This innate closeness is something we crave any time we face sadness and pain; anyone can probably think back about personal or public tragedies, when people who had never even met before hugged and held one another, finally able to overcome that unnecessary distance we normally, somehow, set between ourselves and others.

We shouldn’t have to only come together during times of sorrow. We have the ability to reach out and reconnect on any given day, if we can just get past unimportant issues. Today is what we have; no sense in wasting it, waiting for a tomorrow which might never come.

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