Three years ago tonight my friend John O’Donohue crossed the threshold that he always considered helping others to travel one of the greatest privileges of ministry. He died in his sleep, his beloved at his side, at 52 years old, three weeks after I had last spoken to him. His extraordinary book ‘To Bless the Space Between Us’ was near publication, and when it surfaced a couple of months later the opening chapter on thresholds and the inevitability of change made a different kind of sense than I imagine he intended when writing.
Those who knew and loved him were bereft; the most astonishing funeral and memorial gatherings ensued in such rapid succession, and went so deep that it seemed to be several months before we ran out of organised events to attend to remember the poet, priest, mystic, artist, humorist, and friend; a man so large in spirit that thousands of people were changed by his death. It was a privilege to know him, and to be known by him. I hear his voice on my i-pod all the time – I’m grateful that there were so many recordings made of his work; and I hear his voice in my inner life, calling me to live from my best self.
This year begins with remembering John on this third anniversary; and with reflecting on my own life, amidst wonder and challenge. I, too, would ‘love to live as the river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding’. I, too, wish to be a blessing to others. I, too, am frail and flawed and broken; and frequently fail to give to others what I want to receive myself. John would, I imagine, say to me what he often said, quoting his mighty friend Lelia Doolan, that in times of confusion and fear, you should ‘steady yourself’, and let the light shine through the cracks, even – perhaps especially – those you have created yourself.
If we are to honor John’s memory, we might want to devote this year to one of his other sharpest and most elegant ideas: that the first friendship we must cultivate is the one we have with ourselves. May 2011 be the year in which you become your own best friend.