"Brother, there were two magpies in my front yard this morning." These words begin an article in With Bible, by a priest reminiscing about a friend who died this past Easter. The words were part of a telephone conversation he had with him, on his arrival on assignment to his country parish some years ago. In Korea, the magpie is seen as a symbol of good fortune.
The priest was wondering what his friend would do in such a small parish with so few interested in religion. The area itself was not large but his friend told him he happened to talk to one of the Christians who was raising chrysanthemums, and he got the idea of making his parish a mecca for chrysanthemum enthusiasts. And in a few years, the parish did become a thriving center for the flower, each year hosting a chrysanthemum festival that was hugely popular and well-attended.
However, the writer received word that the liver aliment from which his friend suffered had developed into cancer, and he was suddenly taken to the emergency room of a hospital. He was told there was little to be done, and facing death he began his fight living with the disease. All his friends and Christians received the news with great sadness.
Because his friend required complete rest and visitors were not allowed, the writer wasn't able to visit for sometime. When he did go to see him, they talked for some time about their life together. His friend had only one small wish: If he had two months more to live and had enough energy left, he would like to travel watching people at work, to finish off his wild flower garden and prepare his chrysanthemums for the fall flowering. There was no regret for the life he was given to live. He only wanted to see people at work and to finish the work he had started.
The writer asked him what was it he feared the most. The priest answered it was not fear of death but whether he would be able to accept the pain of his disease without resentment and the betrayal of God. He was fearful that in his pain he would betray the Lord that he had tried to serve faithfully.
His friend's words reminded the writer of a memorable passage by a novelist describing how tragedy is seen differently by a farmer and by a poet: How, he writes, are we to face the emptiness of death that awaits? The poet sings about the foundational tragedy that awaits; the farmer looks at the earth filled with weeds and spreads the seeds to overcome the weeds. To the farmer the seeding is the pledge for the future and strong proof of his existence. His friend not wanting to forget God and the emptiness and pain that was awaiting, by his battle and resoluteness was giving proof to his existence.
A plant has within itself a beautiful secret which it makes present in a flower, says the writer. Practically all flowers have a language, and the chrysanthemum, the flower his friend loved the most, spoke the language of loyalty, purity, nobility, sincerity.