“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.”
I have been brokenhearted, yet not broken. I recall finding my father, seemingly asleep, on a beautiful April Sunday. This day would mark the beginning of me learning what brokenheartedness felt like.
I was nine years old and had run ahead of my mother and younger sister after Sunday church service. My family lived within walking distance to our church and I had made that journey home many Sundays. By this age, I was known as the child who would skip, not walk, way ahead of everyone else in my family. Running ahead was forbidden, yet skipping was a fine compromise. After church each week, I would say goodbye to my Sunday School friends and wait for my mom and sister to come out of the crowd. As we start walking, I’d make my beeline back home.
I looked behind regularly to make sure I was not too far out of my mother’s sight—as long as she could see me within the block’s distance, I was safe skipping ahead. Once we turned the last corner, I ran the rest of the way to our home, 1132 South Lincoln Street. I pushed open the walk-in gate, ran up the path, up the front steps, and burst into the unlocked screen door. Dad would anticipate our arrival home right about that early afternoon hour. The front door was generally opened to allow the fresh air in and the screen door would be unlocked. Actually, in those days, the front and back doors were often unlocked for us kids to come in and out as we needed.
Dad was sitting in his favorite chair, sleeping. That was not unusual. He was an early riser, even on Sunday. And when he didn’t go to church with us, which was often, he would work on something around the home or in the yard. By noon he would have been up for hours and be ready for a midday nap. He had mastered sleeping upright in his favorite dining room chair—often he would have the local newspaper opened.
There was something different about him this time. When I made all that noise coming through the front screen day, he didn’t wake up. I announced my return upon arrival and said when I saw him sleeping in his spot, “Hi Dad!” He did not respond to me. I said his name several times. He didn’t wake up. At nine years old I knew something wasn’t right. I touched Dad and gently shook his arm. Maybe it was his shoulder that I shook, I’m not quite sure which one it was. All I know for sure is that he slumped a bit downward in his chair. I stood still. He never fell out of his seat.
My father has been gone for a long time now—more than 40 years. Yet I can recall with great detail the imprint of those nine precious years that I had with him: how he sent me to fetch whatever household tools he needed so he didn’t have to stop whatever work he was doing—“Juanita, go get me that hammer,” or “can you hand me the Phillips screwdriver,” or “bring me that rake for the grass,” or “a broom to sweep the workshop.” As an active and curious girl, I was readily prepared to gather whatever items my father may need. He was a carpenter, after all, a laborer to be specific, as noted as his profession on my birth certificate; a man who worked with his hands. And I was his daughter. A daughter of a carpenter.
Discovering my father’s unresponsive body on that beautiful Sunday morning in April before Easter broke my heart. It would take years for me to sort through and understand what it all meant. I have grieved his passing and I feel his loss to this day. I still miss my father.
I have been brokenhearted, yet I was not broken. Perhaps because my father is with me today. He remains in me through those early experiences, memories, and lessons learned about how to live and what matters. He taught me how to be resourceful and handy. He modeled how to enjoy work and make the most of your time. He lives through me.
Psalm 34:19 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.” Yes, indeed.
- On Holy Saturday, suspended between Jesus’ death and resurrection, consider: whose legacy lives on through you, particularly as you answer the call to mend the brokenness in our world?
- Think of a circumstance or situation that you were brokenhearted, yet not broken. Consider how that experience has shaped you and informs who you are today.
An educator and thought leader on implementing a broad-based diversity and inclusion strategy, Dr. Mary J. Wardell-Ghirarduzzi understands the unique duty of leaders to advance social justice in their organization. Dr. Wardell has served as the inaugural vice provost and chief diversity officer (CDO) of the University of San Francisco since 2011 and is a leadership and organizational change professor in the USF School of Education and School of Management. She is the President of the San Francisco Public Library Commission stewarding a $160M budget for one of the most important public anchor institutions in North America. Mary received the Most Influential Woman award by the San Francisco Business Times in 2017 for the impact of her leadership in the community as a university and civic leader.
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