After our yearly family Christmas party last night, where the whole tribe of Duffy gathers, I found myself really missing my sister Caitlin. This is expected, I guess—at holiday times we tend to remember loved ones lost, especially those lost much too soon. At our Duffy gatherings, where all my aunts and uncles, 45 cousins and now, their kids, gather to eat, exchange gifts, catch up on life and celebrate together, Caity’s absence is always pronounced.
I see her sitting with my younger cousins, laughing and enjoying each other. I see her right in the middle of whatever post meal game is happening. I see her turning up the music and trying to get people to dance. I see her, eyes wide and face beaming, in one on one conversations, really listening to whoever she is engaging.
Her absence is palpable, there, as it is at family weddings and other celebrations. She should be there, and how is it that she is not, that we so easily move on in the wake of her death?
I know it has not been easy. I know that, as humans, we inevitably move on. Not in a forgetting way, a putting aside way, but in a life-filled way. We keep living. It’s what we do. We choose life, even in the face of death. We keep gathering, remembering, sharing, being family. We live alongside and in and around the hole that was her life.
In my missing her, I found myself, hours later, scrolling through her Facebook page, looking at pictures, reading what people have wrote to her through the years. This can be a downward spiral into sadness at times, but yesterday, it was an uplift, a remembering of who she is and what her life continues to do.
Time after time, people shared all the ways Caity has touched them, encouraged them to love, to live, to remember what it’s all about, at the heart of things. How has such a sad and horrific death done this thing, taught people how to live? But I know. It wasn’t her death, it was her life that spoke and continues to speak to us. Her death was and is confusing, a mystery that many of us put into the category of ‘something I probably won’t ever fully understand.’ But her life? That is something I get, with my deepest longing, my truest heart. That is something I, and so many, want to LIVE. We want to be that love, we want to live that freedom, we want to dance like that, we want to show up for others as she did. And somehow, because of her death, we have received an invitation to do just that, to be that, to become that life and love. We are so inspired by her, motivated by her, compelled by her because we all want to live like that, to love like that, to be free like that. And we can. We must, in a world so in need of such authentic love.
To me, this is Christmas. It’s the birth of Life and of Love. But not only in some dude 2,000+ years ago in Bethlehem. Jesus came to show us what we ARE, and what we can BE. The Incarnation (Christmas) is the greatest act of solidarity, of Divine I-am-with-you-ness and shows us the great potential of humanity. Jesus did not come to be worshiped or to be set apart. He came to be intimately close to us, to walk with us, to show us who we are and our potential for loving. He came exactly as we are—tender and vulnerable and weak, to reveal the unexpected power there, the paradoxical potential for great love in the world. He united God to us and us to God, embodying the Divine-Human Oneness of this life. He holds this Wholeness in his very being. Yet he didn’t do it so we could look at him and admire him. He did it so that we might become it too. He came to walk with us and in us and through us, to teach us how to live from the inside out, how to trust Divine guidance and how to rise and keep rising. He came for all of us, loving indiscriminately, but especially those who need love the most.
Caity took Jesus’ message very seriously. She seemed to get it intuitively. From the beginning, she loved God with her entire heart, has quotes about God all over her childhood bedroom, and always wanted to love as God loves. She wasn’t afraid of death, saw it as an eternal dance with God and longed to be held in the love she knew to be true in this life. She loved in a way that was both innocent and bold, reaching across boundaries and loving through them. She made countless people feel special, like she was their best friend, because she tended to them with such openness, love, acceptance and particular attention.
Cait loved like this is real, this Divine-become-human reality, like God was living and moving and being through her, which, technically, is what Christmas is all about. As a priest I love says, “Christ” was not Jesus’s last name. “Christ” refers to a reality, a consciousness, a way of being in the world that all Christians are asked not to just believe in, but to embody, to live, to practice, to become.
Caity got this. God was not just an idea to her, a being out there, but a verb, an action, a loving of the one right next to you. For her, it was all about the living. It still is. This is Christmas. How are you living love? How are you becoming the love of God in our midst? Instead of putting the baby in the manger, singing songs and giving responsibility away to someone who lived 2,000 years ago, how are we being the reality of Divine solidarity, of God-with-us and IN us, of eternal love, right now?
Reading the words of her friends, the message of Christmas hit home for me. Jesus is here. Caity is here. In you.