In 2010 my best friend Laura and I went to Cuba on a school trip.
We hated it.
That week, Laura and I got sick from the water.
We missed our moms.
We missed our beds.
We missed flushing toilets.
We missed our health.
It was the worst illness I’ve ever experienced.
But looking back, I should’ve been grateful.
This past week, I’ve come to realize that Cuba was an experience I’ll never forget.
It had nothing to do with the sundresses and tank tops we wore in the middle of February.
It had nothing to do with the five days we missed from school.
It had nothing to do with the captivating men who taught us to Salsa.
It had nothing to do with the mojitos we drank every afternoon.
It had nothing to do with the indigestion-well, maybe a bit.
It had everything to do with a girl from Harvey, New Brunswick.
It had everything to do with Heather MacInnis.
Heather was the type of girl you could never forget.
She left a mark on everyone she met, just like the colorful tattoos decorated on her arms.
Her tattoos matched her vibrant, and colorful personality. They suited her.
She was sweet, sincere, and a go-getter.
When you spoke, she listened.
She always listened.
She made you feel special, even after knowing her for such a short period of time.
Heather was sick too.
No, it wasn’t some petty travel indigestion.
Heather had Cystic Fibrosis.
But unlike Laura and I, Heather never complained.
She refused to let it hold her back.
In Cuba, she kept dancing when everyone else was too tired.
She would walk, even when someone offered to give her a ride.
She cared for everyone without asking for anything in return.
Heather was a treasure, and we all knew it.
While Laura and I felt sorry for ourselves, she took in every precious moment she had.
I remember one night in particular.
Heather and I were walking through the streets of Havana.
I was complaining about being sick.
We started talking about goals, life, time, and eternity.
The girl had a list of goals longer than the miles it took to get to Cuba.
But she admitted her life had a time limit shorter than most.
We talked about eternity and what it would be like.
We both didn’t know.
But Heather reminded me that it would be great.
On April 10th, Heather took her last breath in a Toronto hospital bed. Her body had rejected the second pair of lungs she received later this year.
Heather, now it’s my turn to remind you of something.
You my dear are a jewel in God’s crown, and I’m certain eternity is everything you hoped for.
The last time I saw Heather was this past summer. She had been getting used to her first set of lungs.
There she was, that sweet little girl from Harvey, New Brunswick sipping coffee with her fiancé in downtown Fredericton. Her spirits were more vibrant than ever.
That’s how I’ll always remember her: Vibrant. Ready to take on the world.
And she did.
Cuba introduced me to sickness, Heather’s sickness. But more importantly, she taught me the courage and perseverance it took to overcome that sickness.
She overcame it by living, loving, and refusing to give up.
You continue to inspire.
Congratulations on getting your B.A. in Religious Studies at STU this year. Laura and I will be rooting for you when they present you with your degree.
Now take a deep breath, and get ready to take on eternity girl. It’s nothing you can’t handle.