“What were you thinking?”
It’s finally happened: I’ve been a mother so long that I now address the All-Wise God like one of my kids, maybe a recalcitrant toddler or a teenager in the throes of a mood swing—someone who needs to be encouraged to think rationally. But this was the prayer that kept coming to mind when I heard the news that our friend Peter
had died suddenly and altogether unexpectedly.
I’m abandoning my futile attempts to try to write about something else this week. Luckily, Peter is relevant to personalism, if only because by age 23 he had already “become who he was,” as John Paul the Great urges everybody to do.
Everyone who knew him could have easily imagined him marrying, raising an exceedingly happy, large, lively family, and diffusing his goodness, but we have a hard time picturing him developing into somebody better.
It’s hard to know what to say about Peter: I keep producing and discarding clichés. So here are some pictures, which truly do speak louder than any words of mine. I could say that Peter exemplified both strength and sweetness, or I could just show you this picture of him with my son, Gabe (of The Gabe Axiom).
I could describe his fearlessness, or I could just show you this one:
(This is the same quality that allowed him to install our ceiling fan by balancing on a stool balanced on a ladder. The reason he was hanging around the cliffs of Wyoming was not to show off, but to build houses there, 20 hours a day or so, with his brothers.)
I could contend that he would have made a good father, or I could just show you pictures like these of Peter with a niece
and a godson:
Peter was living proof that you can take life seriously without taking yourself seriously.
He stood up for his faith but was never, ever pompous about it. He worked most recently at Belle Tire, where they thought he was a little strange because he didn’t swear or traffic in dirty jokes. On the other hand, they promoted him almost immediately, because he was absolutely trustworthy, always hardworking, and made them look good.
You might think from Peter’s youth and carefree grin that he just hadn’t run into much adversity yet. You’d be thoroughly wrong. Peter and his sisters and brothers
have confronted more troubles than I’d wish on anybody. His overflowing good cheer was as much a decision as it was an inborn disposition.
When we met Peter, my teenage son was the lone boy in our family except for one small toddler. Peter and his brothers used to visit us on Sundays while their parents were in jail (doing jail ministry, just to be clear), and the boys were the perfect introduction to impending manhood. That a mother of (at the time) seven would be honestly delighted to see three teenage boys on her doorstep each Sunday night might seem implausible to someone unacquainted with these particular boys, but it was perfectly true.
I just came from Peter’s funeral mass and burial. The Mass was full of hope and beauty, but still, I should have known better than to wear mascara. (I did foresee that the burial would be heartbreaking, but underestimated the number of tissues it would require.) We prayed and sang wholeheartedly, and watched Peter’s many sturdy little nieces and nephews fling shovelfuls of dirt onto his casket wholeheartedly, too. The burial involved lots of maneuvering of a small truck with a swiveling crane, hooks, chains, and some manual labor. It was just Peter’s kind of thing.
But death was never part of God’s original plan, and no amount of looking on the bright side can make the sight of a mother or father with shovel in hand at a son’s graveside anything but harrowing.
Peter lived this life to the full (sometimes clichés are unavoidable) but he kept his eye on eternity all the way. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. Requiescat in pace.