There are a few times in my life I wish I could turn the clock back, and perhaps rethink or certainly relive a moment. There was that time I should have gone with my family to Portugal--I should have quit my job, tossed caution to the wind, not cared about paying my student loans and debts, but I decided to be responsible. Looking back I realize what I missed--how many stories and connections I could have made, especially time gone by as it has, and everyone having moved on in significant ways. There are smaller moments, too, when I wish I’d taken a little more time to savor what was happening--and knowing this only now, in hindsight, being able to see the importance of such a moment.
Right now, in a hospice in New Jersey, a man who was not only my spiritual advisor but also a friend, a father, a brother--who played so many roles in mine and my family’s life--is slowly dying. Long ago his kidneys made trouble for him, and he made it a point to live stubbornly through this hurdle, this weakness, and dedicate his life to a host of others. His calm, philosophical and spiritual outreach must have touched thousands upon thousands of lives in all the places he lived and offer ministry to all and any. When he came to us in Athens, GA, my husband and I immediately gravitated toward him, aiming to make him feel welcome in a new place, when, to our surprise, he made us feel welcome in our own skins. Over the years he taught us the value of our souls, to find ways to make front and center how God enters into our lives, in ways both mysterious and obvious.
He blessed my marriage, my daughter, my home; he listened to my troubles, put perspective on my sins and inner demons; he made me smile and laugh; he called me little flower.
He’s so far away now, and I am so pregnant--I cannot get on a plane to go and see him, though that’s my first inclination. I know his family is near him, consoling him, telling him the jokes and reliving their family story. And all I can think of is the moment I had with him I wish I could relive, my most recent memory of him. We went for a bagel, for a morning chat, and as we ate and he listened to my problems, he cored out the bready part of the bagel in front of him, and saved it in a napkin. I thought it strange at the time, but when we finished, he told me why, and asked me to pause out at the front door of the shop to watch him. Quite often, he would get a bagel at this place, and he found that he had a little Franciscan following: pausing that day, I watched him, in the middle of Jackson Street, throw the bread crumbs up in the air, and from out of nowhere a multitude of birds came and fed on the pieces. I felt I was looking on St Francis--and I wish now I had skipped my own class and just sat and talked with him for the rest of the day.
Yesterday, I read prophetic words in the second reading: “My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is made perfect in weakness.” Fr. Tom taught me that--and he lived that, to the end.