Renewal with two weeks to live

I may have told this story before. Some stories are worth repeating.
Back in 1952, at age 42, Lester Levenson had two massive heart attacks. As you can imagine, there were none of the treatments then that we take for granted now. There were no stents, no by-passes, no transplants, none of our modern medications. Basically, the doctors gave Lester a death sentence: “You have about two weeks to live. Go home and get your affairs in order.”
So, Lester went home. He was angry and frustrated. He was a graduate from Rutgers. He was a brilliant engineer. He was smart. “If I’m so smart, how come I’m dying so young? What did I miss about life? What didn’t I get?”
So Lester sat down to figure out life. As he went inside himself and examined himself, he made two simple, but amazing discoveries. He was unhappiest when he wanted love. Wanting meant that he didn’t have love. At the same time, he discovered that he was happiest when he was loving. So he figured, “I’ve got two weeks to live, I’m going to die a happy person.” So he decided to love everyone and everything in his life. He would love every person, every thing, every circumstance.
His second discovery was all the negativity he was carrying around inside. All the blame, the shame, the anger, the fear, the guilt, the judgments, and on and on. He realized that these energies were pulling him down. So he decided to bring each feeling up and let it go. He would bring up the guilt and let it go. He would bring up the worry and let it go. He would bring up the fear and let it go. On and on he went through those two weeks of life.
And guess what? Doing those two things – loving everyone and every circumstance in his life unconditionally, and letting go of every non-loving feeling, every negative feeling as soon as he felt it – the man with two weeks to live lived 40 more years. He never saw a doctor again. They had given him a death sentence. He had discovered a life sentence.
Basically, Lester discovered what Jesus tried to teach us, the power of unconditional love – for others, for ourselves and even for our enemies. There was no room in Lester’s heart for any non-loving feeling, and that healed his heart.
I’m the first to admit that this is not easy to do. I don’t pretend to always do it, and, when I think I’m doing it, I may still be holding onto some negative energies. Yet, as challenging as it is to do it, not doing it is even harder. How many years do we shave off our lives with our worries and fears and blame and shame?
In the Garden of Eden, before the original sin, Adam and Eve were at peace with all of life. There was no violence. Nobody ate anybody else. Apparently even the animals were herbivores. It was a kingdom of love. There was only harmony, peace, love and joy. That is our natural state.
Jesus came to restore us to our natural state – the Kingdom of God. Yet, just as Adam and Eve doubted God and ate the forbidden fruit, so too the people of Jesus’ day could not always hear Jesus either. Neither do we always live by the words of Jesus. Love is so countercultural. Even better, love is “trans”-cultural. Love transforms our cultures.
We live in a world of competition, of being right, of making others wrong, of condemning and judging others. And, of course, when we do that we also condemn and judge ourselves. That’s the irony of life. What we put out returns to us.
It’s important to remind ourselves to be loving people. We need to remind ourselves that our energies are energies of love. We are for life. We are for marriage. Love may mean that we vote against certain pieces of legislation, but always we do what we do out of love – for ourselves, for others, even for supposed enemies. Our nation will not be healed by more divisions. Our nation, our world and ourselves will only be healed by love. It’s worth sending love every minute of every day to ourselves and to all the world. Such love fulfills the words of Jesus, “That all may be one.”

Copyright (c) Oct. 18, 2012

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.