An unexplained coincidence — something that falls into the category of a "small miracle" — is often met with cynicism. The event seems unbelievable.
But what if the incident happened to you? What if you experienced a moment in time when heaven and earth collide? Then would you believe?
Six years ago, Joe changed from a cynic to a believer in God's mysterious ways.
Once an altar boy in a large Irish Catholic family, religion and love held Joe's parents and siblings together like glue. With a father in management at a developing 1960s corporation, the rungs up the ladder meant frequent moves to distant cities.
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“We were always the new kids in school,” Joe remembers about changing locations every two years, “but we had each other and we were close.”
Church together, playtime together and mealtime together made for a traditional childhood within the family unit, despite the frequent arrival of the moving van.
But after a transfer to another state during Joe's junior high school years, his parents didn't seek out a new church. Sunday mass took a backseat to busy weekends. Still, the love Joe felt from his parents remained unchanged.
“I was the golden child,” Joe reminisces about his folks, who thought he could do no wrong. “If I came home with a poor report card,” he says with a chuckle, “my mom would blame the teacher.”
Nevertheless, when Joe left for college on the west coast, his mother's world shifted as she saw her oldest child leave and realized the five others would soon follow. Over the years, his happy, carefree mom fell captive to mental illness that left out compliments or gentle conversation for her children.
As an adult, Joe continued to practice kindness and respect toward his mother. Never was there the slightest hint to his children that their distant east coast grandmother was anything less than loving.
Then one day his mother's lengthy mental illness, complicated by lung cancer, came to an end. Joe's sister, who had lovingly looked after their mom as her health waned, broke the expected news while he was away from the Tri-Cities on business.
“Marci and the rest of the family wanted me to lead the small funeral service rather than a priest,” Joe recalls of the stressful time. “My mom hadn't been in church for years."
Rushing home from his out-of-town trip, the hour was already late. Joe hurriedly grabbed some old religious books from his shelf with the hope he could find inspiration on the plane. With no time for reflection — or sleep — he and his wife caught the earliest flight to New York State.
As Joe thumbed through the first book, the Prayer of St. Francis caught his eye. He dismissed it. Turning to another book, the same prayer nearly leapt from the page. He bookmarked it, even though it wasn't one of his favorites or seemed to be what he was seeking.
With only a few hours to prepare his thoughts after greeting family upon his arrival, Joe was still doubtful about using the Prayer of St. Francis. Still, he decided to start the service with the prayer, even though he had no idea if it was one his mom would have chosen — or even liked.
“My mom had been a terrible pain at the end,” Joe says, recalling he didn't want her mental illness to be the focus, “and I needed something inspirational. The prayer sort of worked and I could talk about forgiveness and our happy childhood memories.”
That night after the service and family dinner, Joe's father (in early stages of Alzheimer's disease) fretted about his finances and the future. Exhausted, but wanting to put his dad's mind at ease, Joe decided to drive him home to go over the accounts.
His sister, Marci, insisted she go, too, even though Joe protested because of the late hour, knowing she was worn thin also. Marci assured her brother that she would just relax in the living room while the two worked at the kitchen table.
A little later, the fiscal details finished, Joe asked Marci what she had been doing while she waited.
“It’s weird,” Marci told Joe, “but I was sitting here staring off into space and I suddenly had the urge to go look into mom’s closet and open a drawer.” She pauses, “and then it was like, ‘go under the sweaters.’”
When Marci reached in and under the neatly folded sweaters, her hands met a large manila envelope. “Joe” was written across the front in their mother’s pen. Peeking inside, she could see Joe’s youthful pages of artwork, but went no further.
Now, with the envelope at the kitchen table, Joe pulled out the cartoon book he had created in high school, marveling that his mom had saved it all these years. Then his sister turned the envelope upside down. Out slid two laminated items. One was a poem that read:
“Grieve not, nor speak of me with tears, but laugh and talk of me as though I were beside you. I loved you so. T’was Heaven here with you."
The other was a copy of the Prayer of St. Francis.