By Jenna Ebener
I had a heartbreaking end to the summer when I learned one of my dear students suddenly passed away. As medically fragile as our students are, every loss still comes as a blow. This student in particular touched my heart in beautiful ways over the past three years. I think about all of the incredible progress my student made, especially in regards to accessing a communication system.
I find myself mourning what could have been and where that progress could have led. Then I remember all I learned. My student taught me that true strength is not physical but comes from within. Strength is never giving up to communicate when it takes every ounce of effort just to indicate “yes” or “no” with your thumb. It is the vibrant personality that finds a way to make everyone laugh even though you cannot make facial expressions or verbalize your thoughts. It is the internal fight to try your hardest every day when every day your body is telling you to give up; some days, you want to give in. You are tired of fighting so relentlessly, of not being able to talk and move like you used to, and you are depressed; yet you find the strength to keep pushing.
It is that pure strength and determination that I will forever hold in my heart. It is the reminder from my student’s family that God has a purpose for everyone. Some are meant to be on earth for countless decades sowing their seeds. Others are meant to be with God and so are only on this earth for a short time; maybe days, weeks, months or, if we are lucky, years.
Yet even that brief amount of time is enough for countless people to see what beautiful angels they are. Their ripples spread far and deep and continue to spread long after their passing. For God loves them so much that he needs them there in heaven where they are finally free. Instead of keeping them entirely to himself, he blessed us with their presence for however many days until he could not wait for them to return to him.
We are left with the priceless memories and the values they left to us. Maybe it is their strength and perseverance as they fought for every day on earth. Maybe it is their joy and purity that showed us what it means to be God’s children. Maybe it is the compassion that their lives brought out in those around them and the push to advocate for others like them. Whatever those values may be, cherish them and use them. Let them drive who we are as children of God. Let them drive our interactions with others.
How wonderful would it be if every one of our interactions were as pure as they were with those individuals who have touched us the most? What if we saw God in every single person the way we did with those angels of God? How would our perspectives and attitudes change? How would our priorities shift if we saw every day as potentially being our last or the last of anyone we interact with? Do we see all of the angels among us? “See that you do not look down on any of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:10).
(Jenna Ebener graduated in 2015 with a Master of Social Work from St. Ambrose University in Davenport.)