“Hope and faith will both come to an end when we die. But love will remain. Love is eternal. Love comes from God and returns to God. When we die, we will lose everything that life gave us except love. The love with which we lived our lives is the life of God within us.” Henri Nouwen, Henri Nouwen Society Daily Meditation, May 17, 2018, from Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey, HarperSanFrancisco. 1997.
As we grow older, we think about our legacy, what we will leave behind and what we carry with us. Henri Nouwen reminds us that what we take with us is love. I think that what we leave behind also is love. As I remember those who have died, I most hold onto and remember how well they loved. The honors, the prestige, the medals, the positions fall away. What seems to matter most is how they loved, often in face of great difficulty or with a horrendous past.
I have recently met with a group of friends I have known for over forty years in my medical specialty at our international meeting. We often end up talking about those in our profession who have died. This is what transpires. We hear and share stories of how they were kind to others, gave us a chance when no others would, threw wedding showers for us when no family members could, asked about and showed concern for sick family members. Rarely do we mention the brilliant diagnoses they made. Instead we remember their kindness to us, to patients, and to those they worked with. We rarely mentioned the giants in our medical specialty who were so wrapped up in their own careers that they could never love or care for others. When we did talk about them, they were a reminder to each of us of the kind of person we do not want to be.
I also remember those who love without conditions, not requiring anything back, loving no matter what happens. My experience is that this is most often the love offered by grandparents. This is a privilege that should not be forgotten.