by Alexandra Chakos
In the dictionary, the words misfortune and miracle, by virtue of their spelling, are not very far apart. Is it possible that, even in reality, a misfortune and a miracle can be closely linked events? I proffer that in some cases, they can be one and the same.
On December 31st, the last day of the year 2012, as I raced from store to store fulfilling my lengthy shopping list, my car radio was tuned to the local PRI station. This enabled me to hear a portion of a podcast by Stephen Tobolowsky, the prolific character actor and consummate storyteller. In this episode, he related a personal story of a disastrous accident and its aftermath. While riding horseback on a volcanic mountain in Iceland, he and his horse were knocked over by a strong wind. Stephen suffered what was later described to him as a fatal accident, breaking his neck in five places. What surprisingly saved his life was the severe arthritis that afflicted his neck and acted as armor to hold things in place. The very thing that he considered a cursed misfortune turned out to be his miracle.
Later that night, I bustled about my apartment preparing for the guests we had invited for a New Year's Day celebration. As I hauled my cleaning supplies into the bathroom, I stumbled on a laundry basket. This basket, filled with clothes that needed mending and alterations, had sat there for weeks, accusing me of neglect every time I entered the room. What a nuisance! Side-stepping the miserable basket, I set up my two-foot step stool and climbed up to clean the light fixture.
As I cleaned, my thoughts drifted back to Stephen Tobolowsky's story. It reminded me of my late godmother who, in her nineties, was plagued with abdominal bloating and frequent gaseous emissions. One day, I rushed her to the hospital because of her severe abdominal pain. Doctors discovered that her gall bladder had ruptured. What could have been a fatal event, was averted by her bloated belly which pressed against the gall bladder, preventing the bile from escaping. Her misfortune was her miracle!
Completing my chore, but still distracted by my thoughts, I attempted to descend from my perch. Instead of the lower step of my stool, my foot encountered air. I had accidentally stepped off the wrong side of the ladder and was hurtling toward the floor. Anticipating cracking my head on the hard porcelain floor, I instead found myself in the embrace of the accursed laundry basket, cushioned by the neglected mending. This proved to me again that a miracle can sometimes come disguised as something unpleasant.
Fr. John and I are often asked how, at our advanced ages, are we willing to forego the comforts and conveniences of our home and the companionship of family and friends to work in a third-world country, helping strangers. We can't deny that missionary work is difficult and physically challenging. Within this hardship, however, we find the greatest blessing of our lives. The fact that God has blessed us with the strength and ability to bring love and life-changing aid to people so different from ourselves is truly a miracle.
Our New Year's prayer for all of you, dear friends, is that your every difficulty and misfortune will, in fact, be your miracle.