The band Three Dog Night tells us that “one is the loneliest number.” We go into a restaurant by ourselves, and the hostess asks, “Just one?” Free concert tickets offered by radio stations are often in batches of two or more.
We often look at the number one as a number to be feared – we strive not to be just one; we strive not to be alone; we strive not to be on our own. But Jesus looks at the number one in a different way:
On the night before he died, Jesus says in a prayer to God: “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one … .”
When I left the hospital that night, I told my mother that I’d be back the next day, and we’d find more trouble to get into over the weekend. I had a regular way of saying good-bye or good night to her that I refrained from speaking that night because her nurse was standing right by the bed across from me. I felt that she was intruding on our space, our privacy, and I didn’t want to say anything intimate to Mother in front of her. I could have, of course, asked her to give us a couple of minutes, but for some reason I didn’t.
I got the call at 1:00 a.m. from my brother Mark telling me that Mother had died. I started screaming, “No, no, no!” and sobbing, and Mark said he would come pick me up – I was staying at Mother’s condo – and we would go to the hospital together.
When Mark and his wife Mildred and I went into the room where Mother lay, I turned to Mildred and cried with great anxiety, “I didn’t tell her what I always tell her tonight. I didn’t tell her. I didn’t tell her.” And Mildred calmly said to me, “Well, you can go ahead and tell her now.” I walked up to be even with Mother’s head, and I leaned over, and I said to her what I always said when we were about to leave each other, “I love you more than words can say.”
By the time my mother died in August, 2005, she and I had become like one person, indivisible, impossible to part, and Mildred’s loving encouragement helped me to see on that night and ever since that my mother and I are still one, still indivisible, still impossible to part.
And Jesus said, “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one … .”
What God has given to my mother and me, God can give to all of us. My oneness with Mother the night she died felt off kilter because I hadn’t said my normal good night mantra to her before I left. And times come along in our lives when we don’t feel at one with each other, times when we want to be able to talk, to reconcile, to reach each other but for some reason cannot. But just as Mildred reached out across the gap and reminded me that I could still talk to Mother, could still tell her what I needed to tell her, Jesus again and again reaches across the gaps between you and me, between us and others, and helps us to find a way to cross them. Even if it means we have to give up that striving to be one with someone who doesn’t reciprocate, doesn’t want to be one with us, and find that oneness within ourselves, that oneness where Jesus lives.
And then we find that one is not the loneliest number as Three Dog Night says it is. One is indeed, the most complete, the most resplendent, the fullest number of all, and we know once again that God loves us more than words can say.