Grace Abounding: To a Saint

December 10, 2004

I WAS happyto hear last weekthat ElizabethTopilski had beennominated for canonization.Liz andI went throughschool together, soI can say I knewher as well as anyone,but I can’t saywe were friendsbecause she justwasn’t the kindwho needed friends,being whole in herself.She was always tall for her age, gangling,buck-toothed, with a face to forgetand totally flat-chested even in highschool.I can still see her flying down the hockeyfield like some ungainly stork, head andshoulders above the others and woe betideif you got in her way.Nomination is only the first steptowards sainthood in a long and contentiousprocess, fought every step of theway by the Devil’s Advocate, but I’m confidentLiz will make it because she washeaded in that direction from the start.In first grade, for instance, there wasthe laying-on of hands. Like all kids whoseparents insist on Sunday School, we assiduouslypracticed miracle-working, withsuch poor results that we would all haveended up little heathens, if it weren’t forLiz.She could spot sickness almost beforeyou knew it yourself. Then she would puther hands on your shoulders, and hum.Immediately, you felt a kind of rush, comingup from your belly and then downthrough your arms and out through yourfingertips. And you were cured.IT didn’t always work, but it workedoften enough to drive the local doctorscrazy trying to figure why the kids from PS35 practically never took sick. Of course,having read about the Salem Witch Trials,we never let on, because we knew whatwould happen to Liz if our folks got tohear about it.She rarely wasted a moment. In highschool, while us boys were studying the artof seduction and the girls were learninghow to thwart us, Liz was hitting thebooks, preparing for the scholarships sheneeded to get through medical school.She evidently realized the need tocover her healing skills – doctors prosperwhile witches burn for the same achievements.THEN through Med. School and laterin Residence, when everyone else had forgottenwhat sleep was like, Liz somehowfound time to study Central African languages.The reason became clear when the dayafter receiving her diploma she departedfor Kikwit, in Zaire, where the Ebola viruswas raging.Whether she was deliberately seekingmartyrdom, or honestly believed she couldgo up against one of the nastiest scourgesin the book, we shall never know.SHE had several successes in that firstoutbreak, but in the next one, a few yearslater, the horror of caring for half-decomposedvictims must have weakened herfaith, because the virus got to her and herwasted body was bulldozed into a commongrave with dozens of others.I heard about it too late to do anythingbut grieve, but I set up a tablet at PS 35,engraved with the words “To a Saint whomade a difference.” I would like to think itmay have triggered her nomination.

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