Earthen Vessels

The readings the other day included 2 Corinthians 4:7-15: “…we hold this treasure in earthen vessels….” As I read, I was transported back almost thirty years to the chapel at Villanova.

I had been working at Villanova Law School, coordinating clinical programs. Gerry was one of the students in the Juvenile Justice program who regularly visited my office. By the time he graduated, we had become friends.

During the summer after graduation, while he was studying for the Bar exam, Gerry developed a kink in his neck. It got progressively worse and he sought medical help. “Tension” was the diagnosis, and he began to take aspirin for relief.

Gerry passed the Bar in the fall and went to work for a law firm in Rehoboth Beach, MD. But, by mid-November, the stiffness in his neck had gotten so bad that he could barely turn his head. On a trip home to Connecticut, he visited his family doctor, who ordered blood work.

“Leukemia” was the real diagnosis, and a bone marrow transplant was the only hope for a cure. Gerry was told that if no compatible donor could be found he only had two years to live.

“They can tell that?” I asked skeptically. It turned out they could.

When his sisters were determined not to be compatible donors, a bone marrow donor drive brought out hundreds of Gerry’s former classmates and friends. None was compatible, and Gerry died two years later.

While he was sick, Gerry taught me a lot about living well and dying well. He continued working until just a few weeks before he died, carrying on in the same calm, understated way he always had. He would not talk with me about being sick or knowing he was dying or how he was preparing to die—all things I desperately wanted to talk about. He just wanted to live until he died. I learned to let go of my need to process and just be with him and enjoy our times together.

“Earthen vessels” was one of the readings at a Memorial Mass for Gerry held at Villanova’s chapel. He had also recorded two songs to be played before Mass: Lean on Me and At this Moment.

I sometimes hear Gerry’s songs (that is how I think of them, as “Gerry’s songs”) played back-to-back on random radio stations. At those moments, I remember him and am grateful for his presence in my life, even for so short a time.

I am glad he left these reminders; little gifts from him that always make me smile when I stumble across them—and sometimes produce a tear over what I have lost.

2 thoughts on “Earthen Vessels

  1. patrick

    Hi Madeliine,,,wow, this reading sent up a red flag for me can got me curious about the role of the neck. I can see that the neck is one of the sites that need to be checked out. I know for you though, this is being written from the heart and, like all your reflections, this fact comes pouring through. Thanks


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