Here is my very personal list of my own four best spiritual moments of 2016:
1. My best friend, Father Tom Hartman, died. The angels were pulling him harder into heaven than we were pulling to keep him here with us on earth.
2. The bloody dust-covered children, one on a bus from Syria whose name was Omran Daqneesh, and another of a dead baby on the Turkish beach whose name was Aylan Kurdi. The politics of the mass migration of millions of suffering and terrified human beings from places of war to any other place where there is no war is above my pay grade, but the spiritual fact of this mass suffering haunts me every day.
I pray for their safety and that they might all find what Isaiah called all of us to become, “A shelter from the storm.” The Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn knew the truth of why we tolerate such suffering, writing: ”What seems to us more important, more painful, and more unendurable is really not what is more important, more painful and more unendurable, but merely that which is closer to home. Everything distant, which for all its moans and muffled cries, its ruined lives and millions of victims, that does not threaten to come rolling up to our threshold today, we consider endurable and of tolerable dimensions.”
3. Muhammad Ali and Arnold Palmer died. “The Greatest” and The King both reminded us that there are sportsmen and sportswomen out there who are not just spoiled, whiney, ungrateful brats who sit when they should stand.
Ali sacrificed a big chunk of his career for his principles and fought when he was weak and injured. Ali turned a brutal sport into a canvas for his charisma and his kindness. Arnold grew up in Latrobe, Pa., in the depression on a hardscrabble golf course run by his father. He took a game played by the rich and cloistered, and transformed it into a working man’s sport that today is still basically only played by the rich and cloistered, but that was not Arnold’s fault. He lived until the day of his death just 200 yards away from where his father took him to work on the course and taught him humility and honor. Every person who wrote to Arnold got a reply. I love golf because of Arnold and Jack Nicklaus, but Jack is still going strong so thank God I don’t have to say why I love him yet.
3. My Bunny column. The column I wrote in response to an agonized woman who had just put down her sick pet bunny got a huge and grateful response. There was this one:
“I heard a crying that sounded like a baby outside our front door. When I opened it, I saw our cat, Santa, meowing in an unusual way. Lying next to her was a strange-looking, tiny creature. It was twirling around and crying out mournfully in the loudest voice I’d ever heard. Its mouth was wide open and its eyes were completely shut. I quickly assumed that it was a baby creature. I gushed with tears as I urged my husband to help me save it. He took a quick look and told me that the creature was a newborn baby rat. I was shocked. I had never seen a live baby rat before. My mind was immediately set on trying to save him. So I basically became a mom to a newborn rat! I’ve been training him to nurse from an eye drop bottle. I fed him every 3-4 hours. He has such a strong will to survive. He is cute and smart and climbed up my hand and through my fingers. He has sharp claws. He is a male rat and I named him ‘Squeaks.’”
I thought it was a comedown to write about bunnies. Now I am writing about rats.
4. I was told that I know nothing about horseradish and squirrels. I thought squirrels were mostly rabid rodents even though I listed them as one of the things I was thankful for on Thanksgiving. Turns out many others corrected me. Squirrels are not generally carriers of rabies. It’s the word “generally” that still has me a little worried.
Also, I recounted the story of my meeting Tommy for the first time on a TV news show where I was asked about the difference between Passover and Easter. I said, “There are no chocolate bunnies in Passover and there is no horseradish in Easter.” Wrong! C wrote to me, “I clearly remember, growing up in Poland, we always, always had horseradish for Easter. We also, frequently, had latkes, but that’s a different story.”
Well, at least I was right about the chocolate bunnies on Passover!
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