If you were to visit the kitchen in my apartment at St. Paul Seminary, you would see lots and lots and lots of memorabilia from the 1950s TV comedy “I Love Lucy.” I love the antics of Lucy and Ricky, Ethel and Fred. Those of you who grew up around the same time that I did will remember that the show aired every Monday night on CBS.
Back in the fall of 1955, after I had just turned 6 years old, I contracted measles. The worst variation of measles. Long before the discovery of the measles vaccine, folks, especially very young folks, were susceptible to “catching” one of three varieties of measles: the three-day variety, the nine-day version or the 21-day. I got the three-week version.
If ever there is an argument in favor of the measles vaccine, I stand ready to be its “poster child.” I became so ill with measles that on the 20th day, my fever rose to 108 degrees. My parents contacted our family physician, Dr. Mowry. It was a Monday night. I had slipped into a coma as a result of the high fever. As my parents would later recount it, Dr. Mowry “laid the cards on the table” that evening. He told my parents that that night would be crucial. Either the fever would break and I would be on the road to recovery. Or I would die.
What I do remember about that experience was “waking up” on Tuesday morning. I remember vividly being completely soaked in perspiration. I had just survived a temperature of 108. I also remember seeing both of my parents hovering over my bed in our very modest home. Their eyes filled up with tears. They were thrilled that their only child had come close to the gates of death and survived. What I also remember was asking my mom the question, “What day is it?” When she said, “Tuesday,” I responded by asking, “Did I miss Lucy?” The question brought a smile to my parents’ tear-streamed cheeks.
Victory over death
Over the course of the years, some people who knew that story have given me “I Love Lucy” memorabilia: refrigerator magnets, pencil sketches, tin posters, Lucy and Ricky dolls, calendars, even a genuine museum piece — two original checks signed by Lucille Ball and framed. All of these gifts signify something more than the 1950s TV show — a Monday night victory over death. For me it’s the story: “Easter came early — real early.”
Many times as I enter my kitchen, I can’t help but think that all of those “tchotchke” represent a Resurrection story.
For some reason, only known in the mind and the heart of God, I was spared from death in the fall of 1955. But one thing I DO know is this: That whatever God’s purpose was to save me from death, there IS a purpose. And the best that I can figure it out is that God wants me to use my talents to the best of my ability for his honor and glory and for the service of other people.
I share this story as you and I find ourselves now beyond the halfway point in the season of Lent. We together began Ash Wednesday. We heard Jesus challenge us to the three important disciplines of Lent: fasting, prayer and good works.
If I might suggest, perhaps an act of fasting that each of us can do in the days remaining before the great feast of Easter is to fast from all of those “Why” questions that we have in our lives: “Why do I have to deal with pain?” “Why do I have to do income tax returns?” “Why do I have to worry about a loved one being ill?” “Why can’t there be more peace in the world?” “Why can’t I have more things like other people have?” among other “Why” questions.
Our goal of heaven
That kind of fasting can help us surrender our “Whys.” That kind of fast can help us take the time to reflect on the gifts God has given us — time and talent, reflection and resolve — and use them for a specific purpose we may not know, but for a definite goal that we do know: getting to heaven! And helping everyone else we meet along the way to get there, too.
Most of you won’t have the chance to visit my little kitchen and see the Lucy memorabilia. But I hope the telling of my kitchen story can prompt you to think — as it causes me to remember — that in God’s plan for each of us there will be a time when we — each and all of us — will be able to say: “Easter came early — real early.” May we make the best of that “Easter” before we breathe our last.