Carolyn Woo

During these past two months, different experiences have put the cross and the Resurrection into my heart.

There was the passing of a number of people: a colleague who suffered a heart attack in the parking garage after a recruiting dinner; the wife of an elderly friend who drove herself and a friend to my talk but collapsed outside the lecture hall; the mother of a classmate — a lady refined in every way possible; and my beloved nanny. To steel myself to activate the conveyor belt for her cremation, I intoned, “From dust we come, to dust we return.”

At a speech for the Religious Education Congress in Los Angeles, the anguish of the Hispanic community filled me. The “Dreamers” are so gripped with fear and anxiety that even trips to church are now a risk many are afraid to take. Tears welled up.

When did this country resort to hunting down refugees and immigrants? When did a document override the dignity of the person? Is cruelty the new sport?

But beyond the suffering, I saw the people of God gathered to be with each other and do what we do when we don’t know where else to go: call on the name of God. In our prayer together, hope swells.

A good friend left a simple voicemail: “clean,” a profound word for a young mother battling stage 4 cancer.

Minutes before a piano recital, my teacher Gerry whispered gleefully that her doctor is willing to release her from more treatments as her thyroid cancer is under control. This will be the first summer in five when plans will not be placed on hold.

Despite my lifelong (50 years) fear of performing, I agreed to do a Mozart duet with her. She had waited 18 years for the right student to come along and I wanted to be part of something happy for her. I gained too as I lost most of my fear as I saw the other pupils doing their best: some perfect, some not, but all putting themselves out there.

I probably started on that journey when a friend who has come through her struggles with self-doubt offered this advice: “Carolyn, you are fearful because you want perfection. But perfection is not us; we make mistakes, and these make us real, authentic.” New freedom!

My brother struggles with the loss of his leg to diabetes and a wound that would not heal. Though baptized and raised a Catholic, he has drifted away. A friend’s gift from the Holy Land ignites his desire to pray the rosary again.

My older sister did her part by typing the prayers and instructions. Though I could have told her that she could download these from the internet, I refrained because there was heart and spirit in her loving labor. My brother mentioned he did not know what is in his future. I do not either, but I know God is in it. My next task after this essay is to mark out dates for visits.

On Holy Saturday, a package came from Mary, the widow of Catholic author Brian Doyle. Much loved by all for his witty, inspiring and unabashedly Catholic prose, Brian’s early passing was a searing loss to all his friends and particularly his family.

Mary put her art to Brian’s words to let me know she and the family are forging new beginnings. The quote reads: “In short, I believe in believing, which doesn’t make sense, which gives me hope.”

We believe because God, whose love overcomes all suffering and failures, holds back nothing to get to us.

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Woo is distinguished president’s fellow for global development at Purdue University and served as the CEO and president of Catholic Relief Services from 2012 to 2016.