Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Remembering All Souls Day 2005

I woke up very early on a crisp, clear morning, and a thought immediately took shape in my mind.

It was All Souls Day, November 2, 2005.

For the past several weeks, I had been carrying around the awful burden and the anguish of my friend’s suicide (see October’s posts: The Middle of October and I Cannot Leave Them Alone).

My plan was as clear as it was sudden: I decided to drive up to the monastery that morning. It was not yet dawn. I could get there in time for Mass, make a holy hour for my friend’s soul and his family, confess and speak with my spiritual director, and drive back just in time for my 10:30 class.

I was in my first semester back to teaching after my first struggle with Lyme disease. During the past year I had undergone extensive treatment. I appeared to be in remission, but I still found that I had to pace myself. My health still seemed precarious. This too weighed on me.

And yet on this morning, the world felt light. Anything seemed possible.

I drove up to Holy Cross Cistercian Monastery in Berryville, Virginia on old familiar country roads as the sun came up. And I had another idea. I decided to pray a novena of chaplets to the Divine Mercy: in the next hour I said nine chaplets in a row–this precious novena that we pray on the days between Good Friday and Mercy Sunday, this novena that I prayed in 1995 that God might send me the woman he wanted me to marry and send her “soon” (Eileen called a couple of weeks later and said she wanted to move to Virginia), the chaplet of Divine Mercy that I say every day, that played such an important role in my mature conversion to the Church and has been a continual source of sustenance and consolation and nourishment in building up my life.

I prayed this novena of chaplets as part of my devotions that morning and I had three intentions: (1) for the soul of my friend, and the consolation of his family; (2) for the restoration of my health; (3) that we might have another child.

Teresa was about to turn three. We had our four beautiful children–for a couple that got started in their thirties, we felt blessed. We were grateful. And I was still sick. I was taking a lot of medications. Yet, on that morning, something in me was moved to pray for this, to desire it ardently. Another child. Every child is a miracle and a gift from God. It was a little bold on my part to ask for another, especially since I hadn’t even talked to Eileen. But it was a secret desire in my fatherly heart, and I brought it to God that morning, along with my prayer for the soul of my friend.

I got to the monastery in time for the end of Mass, made my hour of prayer, and then was able to see the beloved old Trappist monk who guided me for nine years of my life, whose advice on prayer, silence, the presence of God and the living of human relationships still remains rooted in me (he is now living in a nursing home, and his mind has become as simple as his prayer; for him perhaps a blessing, but a loss–in one way, at least–for me).

The day seemed kissed by God. The silence of the monastery was a great balm for my aching soul, the words of Fr. Edward were wise, the fall air was fresh and the colors majestic. I took a few pictures with my camera. It had been a beautiful morning, like a taste of heaven.

I looked at my watch and realized that I had to leave in order to get back in time for class. Any former student of mine reading this remembers my Mediterranean sense of time, always “a little late.” I was trying to correct this bad habit. I was determined to be on time for class.

Oh, but first I had to stop in quickly to the gift shop to get a prayer card for the family. That took just a little too much time....

Well, I would just have to make up the time by driving faster on the way back.

God’s grace meets my stupidity. Again. How does He put up with me?

*People, listen to me. DON’T DO THIS! Drive safely. Don’t speed. Don’t think, “I can handle it. I know the road.” A car, when it loses control, can become an instrument of death–for you, or for other innocent people. I don’t care how good you may think you are, or how many times you’ve driven over that road, there are speed limits for a reason. It only takes one mistake, one mechanical failure, one queer obstacle on the road, one slip of the mind, one misjudgment. Yes, life is full of risks, but this is an unnecessary risk. Slow down, pay attention, stop worrying, drive your car safely. Do it for the sake of your family, of other drivers, of yourself.*

. . .

Speeding along and worrying about being on time. The old car’s got a pretty bouncy suspension. Country roads. Watch the curves. Here’s a nice straight stretch. No cars coming the other way.

Oh, railroad tracks. THUNK. What was...?


Heading toward the side. There’s a tree. A tree. Me, the air, and a tree in autumn a split second of high speed.

The tree whizzed passed just to the left of the car.

Grass wheels hit spin around I’m bouncing everywhere STOP.


Thank God there was no one else coming the other way. Thank God. God forgive me.

. . .

“Are you sure you’re alright sir?” the policeman asked. “Do you want us to take you to the hospital?”

“Oh, I’m fine.” I was sitting on the ground. I was staring. He asked more than once.

“I’m fine. I’m fine.”

A concussion only begins at the time of impact. The brain hits the inside of the skull, and there is a cascade of neurological damage that takes place over the course of the next 72 hours.

*You've just been in a serious car accident? YOU ARE NOT “OKAY”! Get yourself checked out.

I got into the tow truck with the driver.

The car was totaled. It was an old car, and only had liability insurance. This accident was a solo job. “I’m okay, though” I said to myself as the reverberation of the concussion continued to shred neuropathways in my brain.

“What happened to this beautiful day?” I wondered. “What about my prayers? My novena? And the sense that God was taking care of me? How does this fit in?”

How indeed? It was the beginning of a mysterious and dramatic period in my life. November 2, 2005. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace.

to be continued....