Saturday, June 19, 2010

Book Club: ALS Victim inspires spirituality

Craig Dunham is my good friend's name
Rogue and rascal just the same
ALS strikes hard but doesn't win
Instead he finds his strength within
God truly can be seen with him

Does he ever curse his fate?
Utter words of blame or hate?
No. My friend does none of these
His heart is free from this disease
Always faithful to Him above
My friend, forever you'll have my love

The eighth chapter of Gretchen Rubin's book, The Happiness Project, is about spirituality.

As I read the chapter, I couldn't help but think of my friend, Craig Dunham, particularly during the "Imitate a spiritual master" section. Gretchen talks about St. Theresa of Lisieux, a young woman who had spent nine years with nuns, written a memoir, Story of a Soul, and died at the age of 24 of tuberculosis. Apparently, Theresa, virtually unknown during her life, got a "fast-track canonization after her death" based on the spiritual power from her book. "In 1997 Pope John Paul II made her a Doctor of the Church, the elite category of 33 supersaints," Gretchen writes.

I haven't read Story of a Soul but this story made me wonder what it takes to be a saint, because I'd like to nominate Craig for sainthood. I am not kidding about this. I really want to check into it!

Craig is a converted Catholic. And much like those people who become American citizens seem to know a lot more than many Americans, Craig knows a lot more about Catholiscm than most of us who we're raised Catholic. He not only knows his faith, he lives his faith.

To be honest, when I first met Craig, this was a little off-putting. He'd quote the Bible, and I'd worry that he was going to judge me or only want to be my friend if I could "talk Bible talk." But I soon learned that he was in no way "preachy" or judgmental. He played right along with my irreverent flirtations and we became friends. We never dated...maybe because we were on a different spiritual level...his faith was much deeper than mine. I mean, it would almost be like dating Jesus. Craig is that good. Seriously. Though I think Craig has more of a sense of humor than Jesus. Not that I'm knocking Jesus, of course.. you just don't see stories of him going around being flirty and silly, and Craig definitely has a playful side. So, even though we didn't have a romantic relationship, I really grew to love Craig as a friend.

When he was diagnosed in April of 2008 with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) I cried for days. I was surprised this news hit me so hard. Craig and I were friends, but we weren't that close. We could go for months with only an occasional email. But I knew how bad this degenerative disease was and I knew how good Craig was, and I just could not fathom why something so bad could happen to someone so good.

Since that time, I have become closer to Craig. He lives in Evergreen, which is a 45-minute drive, so I only see him every couple of weeks, but every time I visit him, I am so inspired by his amazing attitude. I wish I could write a book like Tuesdays with Morrie (of course, mine would be Sundays with Craig) to describe the faith this man has. I can't imagine the agony of slowly losing all muscle function, yet Craig never complains. He has an altar set up in his room and he still attends Mass and a prayer group regularly. He has difficulty talking, yet I still see such life in his eyes. He still has a spunkiness that challenges people to live fully. And I think he still flirts with those nurses, just with his eyes. Whenever I think of him, my heart swells up and I cry.... not out of pity, but out of absolute admiration and love. Yes, if anyone deserves sainthood, it is Craig Dunhum.

And speaking of the man, today is family is throwing him a joint Father's Day / 50th birthday party! I got a photo of him with all his harem of admirers (including me, of course!) OK... maybe he's not ready to be a saint, after all!

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