Sunday, April 13, 2008

A new life

When I met the man below, he made such a deep impression that I wrote the article below, which was published in Britain's Catholic Times last week. He made such a deep impression on me that I wanted to share it with those of you who read my blog. Since I had the privilege of being in such close proximity to this young man, whenever anything has not gone as I would like, I remember him and find the courage to keep on going. May he also give you hope and courage.


To all intents and purposes, he should not have lived, the young man who stood beside me on the London Underground.

I would not have noticed him had he not pulled his hand out of his pocket in order to grip a newspaper more firmly. It was then that I saw he had no fingers or thumbs on either hand. Instead, he had swollen stumps, heavily scarred and still newly-healed. What had he been holding when he was caught in the fire that had removed his fingers and thumbs? Was it a steering wheel? There was no way of knowing.

From my initial shock at seeing the destroyed hands and catching a glimpse of burn-scarred arms, I looked upwards. Beneath a cap with the peak pulled low down over his face, the young man had no hair, but then he had also lost his ears, part of his nose and, presumably, most of his face, judging by the marks of plastic surgery, probably just in the very early stages of rebuilding a shattered face.

The young man stood beside the carriage door, his head bowed and pressed against the window, hiding from the other passengers the remnants of his face and arms.

How old was he? It was hard to judge because there was so little that remained as evidence. From his build, I would have guessed him to be in his early twenties. He left the train at Embankment, leaving me to continue my journey. For such terrible injuries, this had been no ordinary accident. This young man had faced, and survived, a major fire. From all that I could see, he must have been holding something when he was caught in a blast that hit him full in the face and chest.

How had he survived? What were the reactions of his family? They were probably devastated, lost as they tried to work out how to support one of their own whose life had been turned upside-down before it had scarcely had a chance to begin.

Was my fellow passenger perhaps a member of the armed forces, returned from Iraq or Afghanistan? Had he been a victim of a bomb blast? This was a likely explanation for such injuries. He was a survivor. He had nearly died, but he had lived. He had not been beaten by circumstances, but, instead, had risen to challenge them. He was facing the world, greatly changed, but standing tall in spite of all that had happened to him. This young man was brave beyond anything that most of us could ever achieve. He stood there, teaching all those who would listen, that death is not the end. It can be beaten by sheer courage, determination and by prayer.

This young man, whether a Believer or not, personified the Resurrection. His is a courage that the rest of the world can only admire and only with great difficulty, imitate.

Likewise, his family and friends. For the unexpected passenger to have boarded a train during the rush hour, at a time when his injuries were most visible to the world, suggested a backing of strength, love and support that had also succeeded in rising from the ashes of despair and pain. They, too, although not present on the train, were truly there in spirit. They, too, were a lesson in the meaning of the Resurrection.

Resurrection is not something that happened 2000 years ago. Resurrection is today, if only we could open our eyes and hearts to those around us. We are surrounded by people who face and overcome tremendous hardships and suffering, and, through their experiences, finding a new life and new beginnings. The fresh start might be cripplingly difficult, but it is a new life.

Young man on the train, whoever you are and wherever you may go, we salute your courage. May God be with you as you walk forwards into a new life. In spite of all that has happened to you, or perhaps because of it, you have your own unique beauty. May you walk into the fullness of the light and joy of the Resurrection of which your mere existence bears testimony.

God bless,
Sr. Janet