Henri Nouwen's most recent book, The Life of the Beloved, is written in the form of a personal letter to a friend. Elaine V. Emeth, who was a spiritual director and co-author of The Wholeness Handbook (Continuum, 1991) at the time of this article, responded to his book in a like manner.
Dear Henri Nouwen,
I want to tell you what your new book, The Life of the Beloved, has meant to me. The manuscript came into my hands at a synchronistic moment: The healing ministry at my church planned to use it as the basis of our annual retreat, and a dear friend of our family died during the week I received and read it. Your book touches my heart in many ways, but I want to respond to three specific areas: being given in death, freedom, and suffering.
When our friend Timer died after a life of energetic community service and commitment to representing those who cannot represent themselves--voiceless people and "the rivers, the creeks, and the critters" of the state of Florida--I felt an unexplainable joy that eclipsed my sense of loss. I thought, "Way to go, Timer!" He exemplified for me the way to live and the way to die.
The last years of his life had been marked by a heroic battle with cancer; the last several months he walked in the shadow of death, knowing that he was vulnerable to a sudden bleeding episode that could end his life in minutes. Yet he lived every day just as he always had: fully, gratefully, faithfully, and busily. To him, cancer was just a fact of his life, an interruption and an inconvenience sometimes, but he had work to do, people to get to know, dreams to fulfill, and he actively pursued them until just a few days before he died.