Spring Blizzards and Dire Thoughts

“But there are dreams that cannot be

And there are storms we cannot weather.”I Dreamed a Dream, Les Miserables

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Mack had a rough night of basketball, not finishing the last game until nearly 11 p.m. and so I thought I’d let him sleep in at the hotel a bit.  I watched him sleep and surfed the news on my laptop and  listened to the rain pound on the window, learning that a winter storm was brewing on our route to Chicago from Southern Illinois.  Rain didn’t seem so ominous for a winter storm nor enough to take away our  lazy morning.  We started back to Chicago about 10:30 a.m.  That timing proved pivotal.

Rain turned to snow quickly and before we knew it the three lanes of I-55 North compressed into one, whipped by high winds and fast-accumulating snow.  Before we knew it, we were driving on chunky patches of ice.  Having grown up in Wisconsin, I knew the dangers of black ice — treacherous and unseen zones — and began to feel fear build up inside me.  One wrong movement with the wheel and the car could spin-out.  It had happened to me years ago, driving from Green Bay to Chicago in a frigid Wisconsin January and the car landed in the ditch.  My hands clenched the wheel.

“Mom, why don’t we just get off the road at one of these exits,” Mack suggested.  He had seemed nonplussed thus far.  While I appreciated the thought, I also knew that the off-ramps weren’t plowed or salted yet and would be as dangerous if not more than the road we were on.  With cars in front of us and behind us, it seemed best to drive on slowly and see if the storm would break.

Then without warning, white-out.  No visibility.

I turned the radio off to concentrate on the road and whispered to Mack, “Let’s pray.”  Intuitively I began to pray the rosary, aloud.  My mother used to make us kids pray the rosary when we drove from Green Bay to visit her parents in Milwaukee.  I did it grudgingly and with a lot of eye rolling.  But now, it was like a meditation, keeping negative thoughts and perhaps weather conditions at bay.

Given those conditions, I mentally gave us about a 10% chance of survival.  Before the white-out, we had passed maybe 25 cars in ditches along I-55,even  including a tow truck, which presented an ominous example.  We had about a quarter tank of gas left, enough I hoped to get us past the eye of the storm.  Though I wasn’t sure I could maneuver the car well enough to stay on the road that long, particularly without being able to see a car in front or behind us as a guide.

In between the Hail Mary’s, I seriously began to wonder if we would make it.  When your number is up, your number is up but I looked at the 15-year old boy beside me and thought, “That’s not fair, he has a whole life in front of him so focus yourself and drive him out of this.”  My stomach clenched and I slowed the car’s speed to about 20 miles per hour.

If it all ended today, would I have done all the things I wanted to do?

Certainly that was a question old people considered but was hardly ripe for my demographic.  And yet, I thought it and thought about it.  I felt anxious.  Would anyone get a perfect score on that report card?

The whiteness lifted and I could see the car in front of me again.  I breathed a deep breath and looked at Mack.

“It was never as bad as you thought,” he said, then smiled.  We both knew it was as bad as we had thought.

When we pulled over for gas in Springfield, a thick piece of ice covered the entire front of the car.  We hacked it off, then went for coffee and food.  What should have been a five-hour drive home took eight hours.  It wasn’t the ride we anticipated; simply the ride we were meant to have.

Book Review: The Boy Who Met Jesus- Segatashya of Kibeho

Boy Who Met Jesus photoThe mysticism of Biblical days seems often dismissed or forgotten.  You know, transfigurations, prophecy, angel appearances, holy directives in dreams and of course, direct appearances from saints, the Virgin Mary and others.  It simply never made sense to me that these events would occur only in one period of time and then forever stop.  So, when stories of supernatural spiritual phenomena occur, I like exploring them, which lead me to The Boy Who Met Jesus.

Author Immaculee Ilibagiza is perhaps best known for her book, Left to Tell, the story of her survival from the Rwandan holocaust.  But in The Boy Who Met Jesus – Segatashya of Kibeho, she writes about her lifelong spiritual quest to meet an illiterate peasant boy from a remote region of Rwanda who purportedly met Jesus Christ under a shade tree in 1982.  The story combines not only the facts of the phenomena but the equally interesting journey of pursuing a personal an in this case, spiritual, quest.

As a young girl in Rwanda, Immaculee heard the story of Segatashya and his visits from both Jesus and Mary, and their various messages to prepare ourselves for the end of days.  She longed to go see the boy and hear him talk publicly about his experiences, but her father told her she was too young and would not take her.  As time passed, her fascination with Segatashya persisted.

Then, years later in 1992, as a college student at the National University of Rwanda, she learned by chance that Segatashya worked on campus at the university chapel and library as a handyman.  No longer the shepard boy, Segatashya was a man, humble in every respect, who talked with Immaculee about his experiences, and fulfilled her quest.

Sadly, less than two years later Rwanda was in ruins and Segatashya was killed in the violence.

English: Rwandan Genocide survivor, Immaculeé ...

Author and Rwandan Genocide survivor Immaculeé Ilibagiza

Her story is both sweet and strong, punctuated by deep faith and a decade of longing to see a man touched by God for herself.  It also includes fascinating outtakes of questions Segatashya posed to both Jesus and Mary, and their responses.  A sample:

Q:  Why will the religions fight when they’re all working for you?

Jesus’ Answer:  It is because in all religions, there are too many who claim to believe in God’s love but do not truly believe.  War will come because too many say they love, but they have no love in their hearts for God or man.

Her story is both sweet and strong, punctuated by deep faith and a longing to see a man touched by God for herself.

The book is available for purchase at www.hayhouse.com, www.immaculee.bizwww.barnesandnoble.com and www.amazon.com.  More information on Immaculee Ilibagiza n is available on her website at www.immaculee.com.

This is another book review in my partnership with Hay House. I was not financially compensated for this post. I received the book from Hay House for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.

Inspiration in the Banquet Line

In general, high school athletic banquets are about sweet and well-deserved awards for the student athletes rather than doses of inspiration. At least that was my state of mind while driving to the Italian banquet hall on Chicago’s Central Avenue this week for my freshman basketball player son. In between the salad and the pasta along the banquet line, a funny thing happened. Yes, the awards were awarded, letters distributed, the boys commended for their hard work and dedication, and the season dissected for freshman teams, junior varsity and varsity.

But then Coach LoGalbo ended the evening by talking about the importance of being a man, of character and how raising the bar made each athlete a better person. He read from a text, As a Man Thinketh, by James Allen.

“Men do not attract that which they want, but that which they are.  Man is manacled only by himself. Thought and action are the jailers of Fate – they imprison, being base. They are also the angels of Freedom – they liberate, being noble. Not what he wishes and prays for does a man get, but what he justly earns. His wishes and prayers are only gratified and answered when they harmonize with his thoughts and actions.”

Some other gems

*“Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves, they therefore remain bound.”

*“Circumstance does not make the man, it reveals him to himself.”

Written as a literary essay in 1904, Allen essentially says  everything happening in your life (circumstances, achievements, all actions) is because of the thoughts we are thinking all day. Everything – job, relationships, happiness, pain, winning, losing – all is because of our thoughts.  He implores us to become aware of our thoughts.  If we only knew, he says, then we would realize that our life sucks because we are thinking – ‘my life sucks, my life sucks’ all day. And so do not assume that you know your thoughts, he says. Observe them. And then if you change them gradually – you will automatically create any circumstance you want by changing them.

I do believe that.

Thoughts being things is hardly a new concept but it created a hush at the athletic banquet, especially when Coach explained that he uses lessons from the text as part of every basketball practice.

After we got home, I went to the Internet and found the text, about 17 pages in all.

How and why do some people let their life events inspire them forward while others fall backward?  Is it only a question of thoughts?

As a child, how was I not destroyed by my accident?  I was too young to control my thoughts in a positive way so how were they shaped?

Doctors, nurses, parents of course of course played a part in shaping my young mind, right?

I’m not sure.

More than purely positive thought processes, I happen to think it was just my moment to have a second chance. While I think positive thinking is uniquely important, I don’t think it is life’s single magic elixir.  Bad things sometimes happen, no matter how well you may think.  Life is cruel to the kindest among us.  Thinking good thoughts won’t spare us from life’s challenges.

As much as we have the power within us, maybe we don’t credit the power outside us enough.  The God spark might give us more chances than we realize, pick us up more times than we know.  Yes, think positive thoughts and train our children to understand their power.  And also accept–  that some things  happen for reasons we’ll never know and simply shape who we are.

Cover of "As a Man Thinketh (Family Inspi...

Cover via Amazon

“None of us Lives the Life that He Had Intended”

So you liked The Power of Myth...

So you liked The Power of Myth… (Photo credit: jay mann)

Reading from one of my favorite writers, mythologists and lecturers, Joseph Campbell, I remember:
“[Life] seems to have had an order, to have been composed by someone, and those events that were merely accidental when they happened turn out to be the main elements in a consistent plot. Who composed this plot? Just as your dreams are composed, so your whole life has been composed by the will within you. Just as the people who you met by chance became effective agents in the structuring of your life, so you have been the agent in the structuring of other lives. And the whole thing gears together like one big symphony, everything influencing and structuring everything else. It’s as though our lives were the dream of a single dreamer in which all of the dream characters are dreaming too. And so everything links to everything else moved out of the will in nature…It is as though there were an intention behind it yet it is all by chance. None of us lives the life that he had intended.”

Reading the Campbell quote seemed to connect to my thoughts this week when my siblings and I received a final draft of a tribute to my father Bob Gallagher.  Of his many talents, Bob loved to bring out his baritone voice and sing.  Nowhere did he enjoy doing so as when he started the “Boy’s Choir” in 1972 at St. John the Evangelist Church.  Every Saturday night at the 5:15 p.m. mass, the “Boys” – adult men who enjoyed singing — walked up the stairs into the choir loft with cymbals, drums and their sheet music to add their own version of musical prayer to the mass.  As Bob became ill, then wheelchair-bound, the choir carried on, electing a new director after he died nearly 20 years ago on Christmas Eve, 1993.  Last year — 40 some years after the choir began, Ron DeLain, one of the original “Boys”, reached out to my sister Susie and I.  It seemed the choir had reached its end and Ron wanted to create a memory of its existence.  He asked for our help to remember the details, and edit the copy, of a tribute he put together to commemorate all those years of song.

It was also a tribute to Dad.  Twenty some years after his death, they still remembered him and his earthly contributions.  If only we could all be so lucky.  But I wonder:  was it the life Dad intended?  Filled with family, business success, more than a few pranks and a great deal of laughter as well as the very real challenges of a debilitating illness that lead to his death at 65.  So somber and sad.  And still, someone from that inter-connected circle of his life remembered and found a way to keep his memory alive.  Maybe it is as Joseph Campbell says, “one big symphony, everything influencing and structuring everything else.”

Thank you Ron DeLain.

DeLain Ronald-Original GB Boys Choir-035316-035317-(160627)

The Return of the Little Men

 

Little Men

Little Men

“Little men,” Kathleen said.

“Little what?” I asked.  “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

As part of my research to learn what happened when I burned my leg at age two, I was asking friends, relatives, siblings – anyone really – what they remembered about the accident.  My sister Kathleen, four years older than me, was a solid bet.  She would have been six years old at the time and in kindergarten.  Where I always questioned my memories from the time as a two and then three-year old in the hospital, all the research on memory told me that she would have a far more accurate fact set from the time.

But when I asked her to provide her memories, she quickly and curtly responded.  “Little men.  That’s what I remember.”

I asked again, “What are you talking about?  I don’t know anything about little men.”

She tossed back her head in what looked like a gesture filled half with amusement and half with frustration.  “You got all these presents and you got these little men.  I think Judy Schumacher gave them to you.  Don’t you remember?  They came in individual boxes and were all connected on a long blue ribbon.  We opened them in mom’s closet when you were home from the hospital.”

Like a Polaroid picture, the little men developed right in front of me.  Of course I remembered.  It was a full set of miniature Disney characters – everyone from Snow White to Captain Hook.

“My favorite was Captain Hook,” she said as if she could see them as clearly as they were appearing one-by-one in my mind’s eye.  I loved those little men and remembered playing with them.  They were a child’s delight and I had forgotten about them for many years.

I had even forgotten about the conversation with Kathleen until last weekend.  We were at winter “Gallagher weekend,” our semi-annual family get-together with siblings and kids.  Kathleen and Susan, my other sister, met with me on Saturday night after most of the kids had gone to bed to give me some gifts for my December birthday.

It was there that Susan handed me that small white box.  I opened the lid and drew back the paper to reveal eight little men.  At first, I did not know what they were.  They seemed so small.  I pulled them out one by one.  “Are these the little men?” I asked in disbelief.

“They couldn’t be,” Kathleen said.

“Yes, they are,” Susan said.

“Where did you get them?” I couldn’t help but ask.  More than 40 years had passed.

“I found them in a box at my house,” Susan said as if it was the most normal thing possible.

Found them in a box at my house?  How does anyone find anything 40 plus years later?  How do you find something you weren’t looking for?  The questions flooded through faster than I could process them.

I picked up Alice in Wonderland, with her white tights, flowing blond hair and bright blue dress.  She was real.  They all were real.

“What happened to the other ones?” Kathleen asked.

“I honestly don’t know,” Susan said.  “I remember we played with them a lot Annie.  Maybe we divided them up at some point and I took these.  Maybe you lost the other ones.”

I didn’t know.  It didn’t really matter.

What mattered right now was that another piece of the puzzle had fallen in place.  Another memory I had in my mind, one that I wasn’t sure if I created or if it was real, had revealed itself in eight tiny little men.

I imagine that for more people it’s okay if their childhood memories are bit fuzzy.  For me, I look at my burned leg many days and am not sure if I remember being there when it happened.  I am not sure if I made up my memories or if what I remember is real.  I am sure there is a psychological theory to explain why it’s so important to me to know if I actually remember the pictures left in my head or if I merely created them based on stories I heard over the years.

I so want the pictures to be real because whatever the storyline, the burns are real.  Was the accident so real that I had to manufacture a story and pictures to protect myself?  Or, did it happen as I remember – everything in slow motion and me watching my story unfold, not feeling any pain.  I was not in my body as it happened but watching from above the kitchen stove, wondering if my mother would come in time to rescue me, if I would drop back in my body or just keep floating upward.

Seeing the little men – Alice in Wonderland, Jiminy Cricket, Captain Hook, Gepetto and four of the seven dwarfs – was an unexpected confirmation.  That simple confirmation created a healing connection for me.

I did remember.  It was okay.  The images in my mind were right, they made sense.  I didn’t have to worry about them anymore.

 

Drumming Away that Blue Moon

Taken by Apollo 8 crewmember Bill Anders on De...

Taken by Apollo 8 crew member Bill Anders on December 24, 1968, showing the Earth seemingly rising above the lunar surface. Note that this phenomenon is only visible from someone in orbit around the Moon. Because of the Moon’s synchronous rotation about the Earth (i.e., the same side of the Moon is always facing the Earth), no Earthrise can be observed by a stationary observer on the surface of the Moon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Has anyone here had an unusually chaotic August?” Marilee the Shaman asked those of us assembled for the Friday night class.  Almost every hand went up.  “Well, that would be normal during a blue moon, especially this one,” she said with a chortle.  Friday marked the first blue moon since 2009, something I reflected on in my August post, What Happens Once in a Blue Moon?With two funerals and assorted other chaos this month, the blue moon worried me.  Everything seemed askew, even up-for-grabs.  When I saw the flyer at the European Market in Chesterton for the Shamanic Drumming Circle at East Wind Studios, well, I just had to sign up.  I don’t know about you but I had never been to a Shamanic Drumming Session.  But like so many “out-there” things in the universe, I quickly learned that shamanic drumming had a following all its own.  In fact, there are fascinating explanations of how the drumming affects our brain waves and creates an ideal state for spiritual expression.

Yet, the week before the drumming, another set-back presented itself.  My parents and my dear friend Urban Schumacher died.  Not only were Urb and his wife Judy our long-time neighbors, we Gallagher children had a Schumacher in almost all of our class years.  And, as the local funeral director in Green Bay, Urb helped bury my mother, father and an assortment of dear relatives.  After my parents’ deaths, I grew close with Judy and Urb, visiting them often when I returned to Green Bay.  Even though he was 81 at his death, Urb’s death was difficult to handle.Obituary photo of Urban J. Schumacher, 1930 - 2012, Green Bay, WI

It wasn’t a question of whether I would attend, but how early I should leave Chicago to make the 11 a.m. funeral mass in Green Bay on August 30th.  If there were going to be two funerals in August, this was something that simply happened ‘once in a blue moon,’ however sad it was.

By 6 am, I was on the road with my son Mack.  Mack didn’t start school until the next week and had grudgingly agreed to accompany me on the funeral road trip, the promise of a pre-season Green Bay Packers game that evening as his reward.  We arrived early to the funeral mass.  “It’s all old people,” Mack whispered as we entered our pew.  He was right, there was an older crowd already seated.  As the 11 am hour neared, the church filled to standing room only.  Ten priests, including the Bishop, brought the casket down the aisle.  There was no question of Urb’s place in the community or in heaven — he was a man of great kindness and compassion, remembered and cherished by all.  We remembered his wit and great humor at the luncheon following the mass, reminiscing with his wife, six children and many close friends and family members.

When Mack and I left Green Bay the next day, we were ready to take the trek back home.  As we neared the Chicago border, I couldn’t help but think of the Toronto funeral I’d attended earlier in the month and the many signs we say on the way.

“Mom, look,” Mack pointed at a long black car pulling up next to ours on the Expressway.  It was of course a hearse and I shook my head in amazement.  As we pulled closer to it, we both saw the sign in its back window.  “Rest in peace,” it read.  Unlike the signs in Canada — of overt death, some fear and a glimpse to eternity — this one seemed to signal some much-needed closure.   “Quick, take a picture,” I said, handing Mack the camera.  He bobbled it a bit and we got only one shot.

 

Just then, I heard the Shaman’s voice, bringing us back from our drumming trance.  “There is a gret deal going on in the universe right now, the energy is very tense as we integrate new levels of consciousness into our world,” she said.  “It should all be integrated by the winter solstice in December.  Until then, buckle your seatbelts.”

We had drummed and meditated for nearly an hour and half that night.  It was August 31st and the blue moon rose high in the sky.  In the end, the blue moon had brought me back home to Green Bay for a funeral and reconnected me to many good friends from the past.  It made me thing about who I had been and who I had become through the years.  Not only had I crossed an international border that month, I realized that the connections through time never really changed, that you could pick up with someone as if the years hadn’t intervened, that as much as we all changed, we all were growing into current selves all the time.

Mack wasn’t sure what to make of the drumming and meditations, which would be only normal for a boy of 14.  I’m not sure I knew what to make of them either.  The drumming was soothing and the burning sage in the air — meant to cleanse and purify — smelled good.  Things seemed calmer as Mack and I got in the car to drive home.  The blue moon would not be back for a long time, and that was alright too.

Book Review: My Father’s Writings

 

For as long as I’ve known Jim Durham, he’s been a man who’s scribbled his writings and presentations on cocktail napkins.  In every conversation, you see his mind running a million miles a minute and you just know he’s inspired to think about something new, explore a different direction and somehow find a way to put it all together for you.

That’s what he’s done in My Father’s Writings:  An Inspiring Journey through Life, Love and a Lifetime of Memories (Balboa Press, 2012).  He’s collected and compiled years of his Holiday Letters, musings, poems and heart-felt stories into a single book.  While the writings are pure Jim, he uses a third-person literary device wherein a “son” compiles the “father’s” writings after the father’s untimely death in an air plane crash.  As Jim describes in the epilogue, “I think I needed to write about my writings in the third person to be comfortable with the inevitable, deeply personal revelations that flow from these words.”

Knowing an author personally changes the way you read the book.  In My Father’s Writings, I remembered some of the same stories Jim shared with me when we met at industry conferences or client meetings.  Sometimes, the “son” and the “father”  roles confused me — I knew in fact both were Jim’s alter egos.  Mostly though I was impressed with the time it must have taken to organize his various writings and then string them together in a story line.

The more I read, the more I confirmed that Jim and I are kindred spirits — seeking meaning in everyday actions and trying to find places for heart-rendering life events.  He tells the stories of his broken heart and joy in finding new love, in losing a child and adapting to life with a special-needs son.  We read about his professional success and fears of being good enough.  Through it all, Jim writes and these writings fill the book and punctuate his stories. He’s written a Holiday Letter for years (and I’m usually on the distribution list) that tries to make sense of life events and share connections between friends.  He shares the voice he’s found in making motivational speeches.  And he shares his hopes and dreams for how his writings might touch people.

“Have you ever thought about what your message would be to your family if you knew you were going to die,” Jim writes.  “Am I the only one who thinks about these things?”  No, Jim, there are lots of us like you — who wonder if we make a difference, who question our path and who appreciate how connected we all are.

It’s a lovely read.

My Father’s Writings is available at amazon.com

 

What Happens Once in a Blue Moon?

Blue Moon

August 2012’s Blue Moon

Jamie invited the girls over to dinner at her beach house last night and I knew we would talk about everything under the sun.  Among other things Jamie just started her own blog, Under The Dune Moon and finally has a place for all her rants and raves and beach photos.  It’s worth stumbling upon.In any event, I’ve mentioned how I’ve been thinking a lot this week about August’s so-called Blue Moon — the astrological phenomenon where two full moons appear in the same calendar month.  It’s rare but not unusual, happening every couple of years or only about 40 times in a century.August started out with two death events, what with the Toronto road trip for Ann’s mother’s death and my remembrance of my own mother’s death on August 5th, 1996.  I don’t like months to start that way because I’m always waiting for the 3rd event to occur.  It’s the sort of anticipation that makes me feel all nervy.

Throw in this blue moon thing and it seemed to merit a little research, thought and this time, even a poem.  Nothing to me is a coincidence; I believe all events conspire to give us messages, provide meaning and often to spur us on from places where we are stuck.

So what would a blue moon mean and what opportunities lie within it?

Digging around on the Internet, I found some guidance.  It read:

Astrology and the Full Moon

Astrologically the energy of the full moon works to integrate and harmonize the contradictions in the self and others. During a full moon, the seeds sown at the last new moon are ready to be harvested and utilized. Traditionally, the full moon is seen as a time for meditation and particularly for personal issues and global concerns.

During the blue moon this vibration is said to be three-fold. In some cultures the second full moon was considered a very holy and auspicious day. A time when the veil between heaven and earth is thin and the ability to communicate with the gods and goddess is very powerful. It is considered a very spiritually significant time for prayer and meditation going back thousands of years.

Aha!  That thin veil thing again.  It meant that there were signs to come, and I was hoping there would be one for Ann from her mother.  Today she flew down to Florida to begin a family cruise.  When they walked off the airplane, they were greeted by the rainbow posted below.  I’ve had my own rainbow as well and when you need it, it is amazing to see it appear.

I sighed in relief.  Maybe this blue moon had some positive gifts to bear.

Ann's Rainbow

A Rainbow for Ann

If you read about blue moons, there is also some theory that you should focus on your changes — the reference to ‘harmonizing the contradictions in others and self.’  I think I’ll let those evolve on their own this month.  With the blue moon set to arrive on August 31st, I’ll wait for what I think will be its gifts.

Once in a Blue Moon

I live in serendipity

A special community

Where good chance passes through

Just about everything I do.

A glance, a wink, a nod

It really is not so odd.

When you think events conspire

To bring what you desire.

They do.

……………………………………………………………………

What does the blue moon mean to you?  Please share.

Endings as Beginnings

There is a certain freedom in the finality of the last scene in Thelma and Louise.  The motor guns and the ’66 Thunderbird soars almost triumphantly above the cliff to Thelma and Louise’s inevitable deaths.  It is surprisingly fitting and peaceful.

When my friend Tina and I heard the news of Ann’s mother’s death, we agreed to make the 8-hour drive from Chicago to Toronto to attend the wake and funeral.  Instead of that ’66 Thunderbird, Tina pulled up in a large black Infinity SUV with Ann’s personal assistant Tracy riding shotgun and her trusty beagle Riley next to me in the back seat.   We had never done a road trip together, weren’t sure of the route but were ready for whatever lie ahead.

Ann had been at her mother’s bedside for weeks as she lay dying and we knew how important it was to her to see and feel our support in person.   Women have a special way of supporting each other and we couldn’t let Ann down.  Although Ann’s mother was in her 80s, the death came as a surprise after a very brief illness.  For anyone who has had a mother pass one, you know.  No matter when or how your mother passes on to the great beyond, it is one of the most challenging events a daughter ever faces.  We weren’t quite sure how best to support Ann and so we hoped for a sign as we picked up coffee at Starbucks and headed east through Illinois on to Interstate-94.

It wasn’t long before the hearse appeared alongside us on a flat-bed truck.  “U R Next,” read the license plate.  We locked eyes and let out giggles.  Were we?  Aren’t we all?  Yes, we’d asked for a sign but what exactly did this one mean?

We drove on, making pit stops for gas and food, all the while trying to drive fast enough to make the wake.  We’d left late and desperately needed to make up time.  The wake ended at 9 p.m. and we were nowhere near the Canadian border.  Just then, traffic slowed down to a grinding halt.  In Chicago, this would be expected, but we were on Highway 69 in Michigan and there seemed no logical explanation for the big-city traffic jam on a relatively untraveled highway.  And then we saw the police cars, the overturned truck and the small boy covered in a blanket on the side of the road, nestled in grass.  A policeman stood near him, holding him, rubbing his shoulders.   It was obvious he was the sole survivor of a terrible crash, the entire top of the truck having been cut off as clean as if a knife had sliced it.

The mood turned somber.  Death had made its not-so-subtle entrance.

We drove quietly and then in unison turned our heads to see a large, white truck lumber up next to our overly large SUV.  Written on the back of the truck in blue lettering was the word, “Eternity,” with pictures of three crosses and a biblical verse.

Now, there are signs and then there are signs.  The rule of thumb is that when they come in three’s, it’s time to sit up and listen.  We sat up.  We were traveling to a funeral after all.

With 15 minutes to spare and by some quick changing and partial nudity in the car, witnessed by only one passing motorist in the parking lot, we made it to the wake.  Ann greeted us gratefully, half surprised we had made it under the deadline.  “So, you showed up?” she chided us with a smile.  Her mother lay peacefully in the casket across the room.  “It’s sinking in,” she shared and we felt her sorrow.  Deeply.

We were slap-happy after our long road trip.  But Ann’s pain filled the room.  We watched as she and her family said goodbye to their mother.  We walked out of the funeral home together with them, meeting up later at a pub.

When the funeral began the next morning at St. Anthony Catholic Church, Tracy, Tina and I appeared right behind the procession, having mixed up the Torontonians’ directions, arriving in the nick of time.  Ann looked at us as she walked in to the church behind the coffin, her eyebrow raised in the “seriously?” gaze at us.  It was all happening so fast.  How could it seem like a week had passed when we’d been in Canada less than 24-hours?

“Funerals are the window to eternity,” Father John Mullins said as he opened his eulogy.  Remembering the message on the white truck, Tina, Tracy and I turned to each other.  Eternity had just called out to us.  “With God, the fulfillment is greater than the expectation.  The struggles in life as we heard in the beatitudes* are the coin of the realm.”

Just then, Tina gasped.  As we looked over to her in our pew, she help up a shiny Canadian penny.  Tracy and I gasped.  “What does it mean,” I asked, even though I was well aware of the phenomenon of finding pennies.

“Someone is watching over us, someone is here for us,” Tina said and we knew it felt true.  Ann watched over her mom and now we were watching over her.

“It’s really the end now, isn’t it?” Tracy asked.  “I mean, the funeral really signals the end.”

“I think it might be the beginning,” I said.

The signs had prepared us, had brought us this far.  The longer I live, the more signs I see.  When you open the door to a little guidance, it comes in droves.  It never fails.

I took the Canadian penny and replaced it with two American pennies.  Someone else could find a little bit of hope.

It was time to begin the journey home.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

*The eight beatitudes in Matthew 5:3–12 during the Sermon on the Mount are stated as Blessed/Happy/Fortunate are:[2][3]

  • the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (5:3)
  • those who mourn: for they will be comforted. (5:4)
  • the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. (5:5)
  • they who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be satisfied. (5:6)
  • the merciful: for they will be shown mercy. (5:7)
  • the pure in heart: for they shall see God. (5:8)
  • the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God. (5:9)
  • those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (5:10)

Tattoos – Those Chosen and Those Not

 

tattoo work by Keith Killingsworth

tattoo work by Keith Killingsworth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tattoos have always been a source of curiosity and conflict for me.  Not so much the little cross or anchor simply and strategically placed covertly on an ankle or elsewhere; more so the multi-colored tattoos covering major body surface areas.  Why would anyone consciously and mostly irrevocably deface themselves?  It seems I am naive about the burgeoning tattoo, or shall I say ‘body art’ business, but I stand firm in my confusion about and quasi-revulsion of it.

When I saw the tattooed trucker sitting across from me at the communal hotel breakfast at the Burlington, Wisconsin Hampton Inn this morning, I wondered again about tattoos.  Colorful and large, they dominated his forearms as far as the eye could see, jutting out from his short-sleeved shirt.

He struck up a conversation about this and that and I asked him, “Tell me about your tattoos.”  He seemed not-at-all-off put and happily explained that each of his tattoos signifies a life event such that he is now a living canvas.  “Every time I look at any of these tattoos, I remember a special event from my life.”   He explained that his tattoos were not born of rebellion but of careful thought and planning.  He also chose piercings in the same way, and I saw the studs on his ears and eye brows.  I did not ask to see the ones he said were on his nipples because I believed him when he said that they were there.

“Couldn’t you just keep a scrap-book of life events,” I asked.  He laughed.  “I prefer to be the living scrap-book of my events,” he said cheerily.

When he got the first of his tattoos he was in the Army.  Regulations required that he wear long sleeves or face penalties.  When the tattoo was in fact discovered, the Army docked him two pay grades among other disciplinary measures.  “They were that important to me,” he said.

“Are you thinking of getting a tattoo?” he asked.

“No, not really.  I have something like a tattoo.”  I paused.  “I had a serious burn when I was young and when I look at it, I think about how I didn’t want it.”  We got up to refresh coffee and I pointed out my leg injury.  He assessed it with a slow and careful gaze.  “I worked in the hospital unit in the army.  I can understand what you went through.”

He told me there were any number of reasons the people he knew got tattoos, from rebellion to personal statements, from feeling special to receiving attention.

“You know what’s funny?” I asked.  “When you have an injury not of your own making, people avert their eyes when they realize you see them staring at you.  I guess when you custom-create your own spectacle and you see people staring at you, you feel special.”

“Do you know what the current tat trend is now?” he asked.

I had no idea.

“They call it branding.  They take a fire-hot poker and create customized burn scars.”

I must have looked absolutely horrified at the thought, because it did horrify me.  Who in their right mind would purposely scar themselves?  Would they have any idea how painful the burned area would be?  Would it matter?

“It’s all along the same lines as a tattoo,” he continued.  “People like it because it might have a personal significance and because they create the scar themselves.”

He looked at my burned leg.

“I know,” he said.  “I don’t really get it either.”