By Linda Militello
I just returned from the funeral of a devout 46-year-old Christian husband, father of three and dedicated member of his church, work and community. His Christian family and friends gain comfort from their belief that he is in heaven and they will be reunited with him some day.
Fifty years ago, in the “Alfie” song lyrics, Dionne Warwick echoed my belief. “As sure as I believe there is a heaven above, I know there is something much more, Something even nonbelievers can believe in, I believe in love.”
Alfie is asked, “Are we meant to take more than we give or are we meant to be kind?” I am kind because my grandparents showed me that life was easier that way. I modeled kindness to teach my children and grandchildren to be kind. I have witnessed and experienced the positive benefit of love.
My librarian work in Buffalo schools proved that kindness is a universal attribute in all people, regardless of religion.
I observed Jewish women donating thousands of hours volunteering in the poorest school libraries and classrooms and working with the most difficult students. A Pakistani Muslim mother volunteered in my library 15 hours every week for a year to show her gratitude for allowing her daughter to go to school. A retired librarian atheist friend created a history of African-American songs for a school program celebrating black music.
The Dalai Lama says the only real religion is kindness and kindness is love. Kindness and love are needed as much today as in the Vietnam era when countless songs promoted love and peace. As Pete Seeger wrote, “When will we ever learn, when will we ever learn?”
Daily, my scientific and spiritual sides fiercely compete for answers. I read historical nonfiction, which proves that war and hatred reap more animosity, distrust and isolation.
I was taught that God, Jesus and all the saints in heaven are waiting to answer our prayers. My childhood prayers were polite and simple. I followed all Catholic Church rules. I tried not to sin because I was afraid of confession. When my polite, pleading prayers didn’t seem to be answered, my prayers became bold and querulous.
As a young R.N., I realized that every prayer has a contradictory prayer. A wife suffering with cancer pain begs for relief and will accept death. Her husband wants her pain to stop, but death is unacceptable. Whose prayer should be answered?
Knowledge, age and observation enlighten but don’t answer all questions. I was indoctrinated to believe that non-Christians cannot get to heaven. If there is a heaven and my password lets me in, I want to be with everyone I have loved, my Jewish son-in-law, my agnostic friends, my Muslim friend Lilly and others. Non-Christians find relief in their faith and may not see the need for an afterlife.
But if heaven is a state of bliss and peacefulness where pain disappears and everyone will feel totally loved, safe and pain free, then all kind, charitable, loving individuals deserve to be in heaven.
With the world in the state it is in, we must hope for a time and place of comfort from sorrow. If we can’t foresee a glorious, peaceful place for all good and holy humankind to be together, how will we ever attain peace, brotherhood and unity on this earth?
Funerals bring us together to pause, relieve the sorrow through kindness and love.
Another Warwick song reverberates in my ear: “What the world needs now is love sweet love, No, not just for some but for everyone.”