I took a break from reading
The Neverending Story the Game of Thrones series (I promise I will finish it, Todd!) to check out a book that is easily one of the most compelling works of non-fiction I have read in a very long time.
A couple of years ago, I caught an online documentary about a teenager who was battling osteosarcoma. His name was Zach Sobiech, and he was a guy who loved his music, his friends and family, his faith, and his life. He passed away in May of 2013.
“Fly a Little Higher,” the book detailing Zach’s story, serves a two-fold purpose: it shares Zach’s journey of hope, love, and joy; but it also serves as a catechesis for what the meaning of death really is – and how people of faith are called to live their lives in its midst.
Laura Sobiech, Zach’s mother and the author of the book, does a wonderful job detailing the reality (the sometimes excruciating, sometimes wildly joyful reality) of Zach’s condition and all it leads to. She invites readers to sit on the couch with Zach as he tearfully wonders how he will be able to go through his senior year of high school, knowing it will most likely be the last year of his life; and they are invited to the exhilarating wonder of a large concert Zach got to headline with his band, A Firm Handshake. She invites readers to mourn as she recounts the last moments of Zach’s life on Earth, but also to smile through their tears as she tells stories of Zach leaving reminders of his love behind.
What struck me most in the book was Laura herself. Her suffering mirrors that of the Blessed Mother, made to watch her Son on her own Via Dolorosa. Laura’s suffering is palpable in the book’s pages, but it is not desperate. It is practical, excruciating, and stoic – and it is holy. This is not a book written by a mother who is lost in her grief. It’s written by one who knows that her suffering serves a purpose, and that same suffering is why the book is suffused with holiness. Mary’s suffering pointed to Jesus; and so Laura’s points to Zach’s — but those actions do not dilute the pain these mothers have felt.
When facing a situation like the one the Sobiech family had to, many questions arise: “How can we use this experience to elevate others? How can we use it to ease more suffering, and to give hope?” Such questions are incredibly brave not only to ask, but even to attempt to answer. I don’t know if I would ask those questions, if it were me. I don’t know if I would ask anything but why, all the time.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed for a way out. He prayed for another way to redeem mankind. But there was no other way; and instead He was given the grace to use His suffering for the benefit of the world.
This book, too, is full of grace. The beautiful suffering in it is so because we know death is not the end. Death can be faced with regret, and sadness, and anguish – all of those are human emotions, and completely normal – but it’s not something to be feared. Laura’s book shows that in an absolutely stunning fashion.
It was an absolute honor to read it not only as a Catholic, but as a mother.