An unexplained coincidence — something that may fall into the category of a “small miracle” — is often met with cynicism. The event seems unbelievable, the timing merely chance. But what if the incident happened to you? What if you experienced a moment in time when it seemed heaven and earth collided? Then would you believe?
More than eight years ago, Joe, a businessman in the Tri-Cities, changed from a cynic to a believer in God’s mysterious ways. Joe asked that his full name not be used in this story to protect his family’s privacy.
The former altar boy in a large Irish Catholic family said religion and love held his parents and siblings together like glue. With a father working in management at a developing 1960s corporation, the rungs up the ladder meant frequent moves to distant cities.
“We were always the new kids in school,” Joe said, remembering changing locations every two years. “But we had each other and we were close.”
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Church together, mealtime together — and even playtime together — helped create a traditional childhood within the family unit, despite the frequent arrival of the moving van. But after a transfer to Rochester, N.Y., 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 said as he reminisced about his folks who thought he could do no wrong. “If I came home with a poor report card, 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, realizing his five siblings would soon follow. Over the years, his once happy, carefree mom fell captive to mental illness.
Years passed and Joe married, but the loving relationship with his mother shifted.
“She became more mentally unstable,” Joe said of his mom’s disease as it progressed even to the point of disinterest in his growing family. “She wasn’t interested in her grandkids.”
Nonetheless, 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 slide into dementia, complicated by lung cancer, came to an end. The expected news came while Joe was away on business.
“My sister, Marci, and the rest of the family wanted me to lead the small funeral service rather than a priest,” Joe said of the stressful time. “My mom hadn’t been in church for years.”
Rushing home, Joe hurriedly grabbed some old religious books from his shelf with the hope he could find inspiration while on the plane. With no time for reflection — or sleep — he and his wife caught the earliest flight to the East Coast.
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 leaped 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, Joe was still doubtful about using the Prayer of St. Francis. But 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 said, recalling he didn’t want her 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 dinner, his father asked Joe to go over financial matters at his home. Marci, insisted she go, too, even though Joe protested because of the late hour, knowing his sister was worn-thin. She would just relax in the living room and while the two worked at the kitchen table.
A little later, the fiscal details finished, Joe asked Marci what she’d been doing.
“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 paused, “And then it was like, ‘Go under the sweaters.’”
Marci followed the thought and then reached into the drawer. There her searching hands met a large manila envelope with “Joe” written across the front in their mother’s pen. Peeking inside, the sister could see his youthful pages of artwork, but she didn’t explore further.
Now at the kitchen table, the envelope sat between them. Curious, Joe pulled out the cartoon book he had created in high school, marveling that his mom had saved it all these years.
But it is what happened next that brought unexpected reassurance of a mother’s love and eternal bond.
Joe’s 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.