My Tribute to Frank Salazar
I first met Frank Salazar in June of 2021 at Cafe Zamora. We met because he was a new teacher at BASIS Goodyear and I was assigned as his teacher mentor.
What started as an awkward meeting between two strangers soon turned into what felt like a reunion of old friends. There was a natural kinship between us because 1) we were both history teachers, 2) we both had a deep interest in Latin American history and politics, 3) we were both liberal arts guys, and most importantly, 4) we were both men of faith.
I do not know which disease took Frank’s life. I am also not sure if Frank knew his sickness was terminal or not. But in retrospect it is clear that his health was deteriorating and that he was struggling to do things that normally would be quite easy for him. It is also quite clear that he hid the full extent of his suffering from us.
What is amazing to me is that Frank chose to spend his last days here among us, patiently suffering, serving faculty and students he did not know very well–exactly as Christ would have done.
Here was a man who was terminally ill who was volunteering to stand in the 110 degree heat (for car line duty) just to help out the school and be a team player. Here was a man who chose to spend his last days trying to help a few more students…trying to do a bit more good in this world before leaving it behind.
As I have said, he did not tell us the full extent of his suffering. Doing so would have made life much easier for him. Instead, he chose to spare us from sharing in his pain and sorrow throughout the year. This was just another way he loved us.
How Frank Helped Me
In late November or early December I was going through a really difficult season. I expressed to Frank that I was interested in learning more about praying the Psalms as Benedictine monks do. Little did I know his undergraduate university was operated by Benedictines. Selflessly, Frank gave me his twenty-year-old prayer book (the St. Meinrad Prayer Book) from his time at that college. He then ordered another one for himself so that we could begin praying a Psalm together in the mornings before school. Unfortunately, his new prayer book took over a month to arrive.
Think about that selflessness for a moment. Frank handed over his treasured prayer book to me when he was going through a season of deteriorating health. That is who Frank was. Helping me was more important to him than holding on to something that would have eased his own suffering.
This prayer book was made in honor of St. Meinrad. St. Meinrad was a 9th century hermit who lived alone in the deep woods of modern-day Switzerland. Meinrad often received strangers at his hermitage–praying with them, showing them hospitality, and giving them gifts (things he needed for his welfare, but like Frank, he could not help but give things away). The scriptures call this sort of hospitality philoxenia (φιλοξενία), which means “love to strangers.”
One day, two robbers arrived at Meinrad’s hermitage. He knew they were there to rob and kill him, but he let them in nonetheless. He offered them food and drink, and then they killed him (they were later caught, which is how we know this story).
Meinrad showed hospitality to all, even the men he knew had come to rob and kill him. This is what Frank did for us (though, of course, we meant him no harm). He showed us philoxenia right up until it was time for him to die.
The Monday (1/24/22) before Frank died we met in his room early in the morning for a mentor/mentee meeting. It was clear that he was having a tough time. At the end of the meeting I offered to pray for him and he eagerly accepted. I prayed that God would give Frank “a peace that surpasses all understanding.” Frank teared up during the prayer, thanked me, and said it had been “the most difficult year of my life.” I wish I would have put the pieces together and asked him very clearly what was wrong, but I did not. When it was over he walked over and hugged me (a surprise at the time), thanked me again, and then we went about our days.
Two other times that week we prayed together in his room before the day started. The last time we prayed together he read Psalm 25, which was the prayer for that morning in the St. Meinrad Prayer Book. Part of that chapter reads as follows:
17 Relieve the troubles of my heart and free me from my anguish.
18 Look on my affliction and my distress
He left school later that day because he wasn’t feeling well. I never saw him again. He passed away sometime over the next few days.
I only knew Frank for seven months. But in those seven months he made my life better. He had no idea, but I have been going through an exceptionally difficult year myself, a year of sadness. Frank’s prayer book helped to bring me out of my sadness. It was exactly what I needed when I was at my lowest.
Goodbye, Frank. Thank you so much for spending your last days with us.