Laura died this past Saturday. I never really spent much time with her, but many of the women I live with did. Laura had been one of the first residents of one of our Emmanuel Houses and had been lovingly teaching all who volunteered there for the past fourteen years. Laura had lived with cerebral palsy in an institution until she was “rescued” by a priest who, along with others who befriended her, helped her to eventually live independently and get a college degree . . . by pecking out papers on a typewriter one key at a time, one hand stabilizing the other. Eventually Laura had a stroke and was no longer able to live on her own and became a gift to those who serve at Emmanuel House. It was very hard to understand Laura’s speech, but she spoke volumes nonetheless. Trapped in her body, she still shone forth. I can’t tell you how many times I heard the women I live with speak of how much they were learning from Laura.
I mentioned a couple of days ago that I am re-reading a book by Christopher de Vinck, The Power of the Powerlessness. He tells a similar story about his brother, Oliver. The main reason I mention all of this right now is not just for the sake of underlining the dignity of all those in such powerless situations, but also to remind each of us of our own dignity when we confront our own powerlessness, when we feel trapped in ourselves. Laura had the ability to make a daily choice about how to respond to hers. May we do the same and shine forth as she did. Lent is a time for doing just that.