It was one of those requests for a 6 a.m. visit before surgery. Some of these can be strange, like the man who didn't want prayer but just a witness as he changed his will and wrote it on a napkin.
This request was a bit unusual. They wanted me to walk with the patient from his room to surgery. After our short conversation and prayer the attendant began moving the bed toward the door. When it was almost to the door I reached out to Maria, the patient Rick's wife, and said, "Here is a prayer by Thomas Merton I often pass out to patients.
She glanced at the prayer, then her husband Rick began to cry. Maria said, "last night before he went to sleep he said I wish I had that prayer by Thomas Merton." Tears came to my eyes then. I knew something special was going on.
THE PRAYER BY THOMAS MERTON
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact
that I think that I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you. And I hope I have
that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart
from that desire. And I know that if I do
this you will lead me by the right road
though I may seem to be lost and in the
shadow of death. I will not fear, for you
will never leave me to face my perils alone.
From Thoughts in Solitude
Rick held the prayer in his hand during the surgery. The report after surgery was dismal. This young man and his wife, both recent graduates of Sewanee Divinity School, with an 8 year old daughter, Chloe, and 5 year old son, Maxx, were soon to be fatherless.
I can't tell the blessings I received during those last weeks of Rick's life. He was here for 5 weeks. Daily there were the prayers, the Merton chats, the moments of silence when the pain was deafening. The times I couldn't pray very well because my own tears got in the way.
Rick improved enough to go back to Sewanee for a couple of weeks. I
participated in his and Maria's ordination service.
Surrounded by robed friends it was one of the most memorable religious services in my life. They were ordained and God's presence was there.
It was a hopeful time, possibly he might live for a couple of years. They would soon be moving to North Carolina where Maria would be an associate priest at a parish. Rick was already planning a book about his experience.
Two weeks later Rick was back in the hospital. The doctor sat on the bed and in hushed tones said, "2 to 3 weeks is all that is left." For hours after that I would glance through the window and see Maria and Rick hand in hand talking.
A day or so later they moved him to the Alive Residence. Rick was enjoying drinking coffee through his feeding tube, or Popsicles ! His taste buds were active. Time was slowing running out. But each day there were prayers and friends and family.
On a Thursday night his friends from Sewanee came to have the eucharist. His pastor, the campus minister, his children, his in-laws. His son Maxx sat on the bed beside his Dad. Everyone said what they were thankful for in Rick’s life and each shared something meaningful. Maxx said he would miss his Dad. Rick closed the time by sharing Merton’s prayer.
Susanna Metz went back to Sewanee and preached a sermon about Rick and the prayer. She compared Merton and Solomon and Rick. She says in her sermon:
"God is pleased that Solomon, as he faces a new phase of his life, acknowledges his dependence on God and trusts God. Merton put its: "I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death." But that’s all well and good for Solomon----it’s all well and good for Merton. They’re two very famous men----could we compare outselves to either? I’m watching my student prepare for death with incredible courage and I say to myself, “Where did he get this? For heaven’s sake, I was his teacher and I wonder if I’d have anywhere near his trust in God’s care." I don’t know, but that’s where Scripture and prayer and the example of others really help."
I went to see Rick several times. Each day he grew weaker, but still very peaceful. One day I was talking to him and he seemed to transpose earth and enter this side of heaven. He said, “Someone is tapping me on the shoulder." Another time he said, "I never realized all the possibilities there would be in heaven.”
On Thursday night, July 28th I was with Maria for a couple of hours. Rick could only shed a tear now and then, or move his eyebrows. I read from the Psalms and Maria lay her head on his arm.
Maria shared what a blessing the Doctors had been here, the staff, those who helped with the journey. A friend Donna had come from Michigan to be with her. Everyone else had left. About the time the friend got back I left. At 8:37 p.m. Rick died. He is at peace !
THANKS LORD FOR ME KNOWING RICK !!!