Francis, On a Dusty Outcropping

Today is the Feast of St. Francis. It’s probably a good day to post a story about an encounter with St. Francis I had a few years ago. It took place on a dusty outcropping overlooking the Palo Duro Canyon in the panhandle of Texas in the United States of America. It was there, on a star lit night, I met my old friend.  

Francis had tried to contact me over the years but I never responded to his overtures. You see, I had become one of his followers and lived with other followers of his for almost two years, and well, sometimes, “Franciscanism” can burn Francis out of you. Especially if you are a restless and sensitive soul. At any rate, I was hurt by a number of experiences and didn’t respond to my friend’s overtures of reconciliation; until now.

When I left the Franciscans, I never really wanted to talk with Francis again. And yet, here he was in a sandy desert in Texas. Eager to talk.

His presence was triggered by a book I had stumbled upon. I was still surprised. It was the book that, many years ago, began my love affair with Francis and the things Francis loved. 

Poverty, prayer, joy in simplicity, sanctity, and a radical foolish yes to Christ were the things Francis loved. His enthusiasm sparked mine. It was bolstered by youthful idealism. 

To see Christ in everything; in every flower, in every person, in every experience, in every leper, and in every song sung with purity of heart became for me, like it did for Francis many years earlier, my experience. My love for Francis was deep and it was a sad loss for me to let go of the friendship many years ago. 

This book I stumbled upon reminded me of many youthful and idealistic conversations Francis and I had back in days gone by. Francis’ joy and his intimacy in God lead me to desire this joy and intimacy. Many memories returned and I missed my old friend. I almost yearned for his friendship again.

Over the years, in his attempts to rekindle the friendship, he told me I needn’t abandon him even if I needed to abandon the Franciscans. Our friendship could still continue, he suggested. The communion of saints and all that sort of thing, he mentioned. 

As my life after the Franciscans unfolded, he would make himself present in a variety of small but real ways. Always on the periphery guiding but not intrusive. Simply present.

My heart was broken by the reality of luxurious buildings, personal conflicts, rationalizations and assorted other disappointments. I had no interest in remaining friends with Francis. He understood. It was a sad and silent goodbye. It was one of those partings filled with much love and that’s why they hurt so much. I never responded to his attempts to renew our friendship over the years. Until, as I say, this night.

This little book, by Murray Bodo, reminded me of my friendship with Francis and in the early evening after the sun had set and the crickets kept the long horn cattle company, Francis appeared again. 

He appeared as a beggar. I laughed because Francis always shows up as a beggar. He’s heaven’s beggar now. A bit tattered and worn but so filled with joy and simplicity it’s hard to see. “Francis, you’ve been canonized aren’t there more beautiful garments in heaven for you,” I kiddingly asked him? “The garments of poverty are beautiful in heaven,” he said as he sat down. “You know, Our Father owns all this,” he said prayerfully looking out over the Palo Duro Canyon. I smiled and agreed replying. “Yes, he does.”

We sat together before God and His natural handiwork for a long while. In the silence. In the darkness. Under the Texas stars. Then he mentioned Our Lord and his poverty, and his chastity and his obedience and his cross. He mentioned the joy and freedom found in all this. He mentioned the beauty found in solitude. I was stunned by his frankness.

Francis always has a way of getting to the heart of the matter. I listened. Eventually, I slowly warmed to my old friend as my heart opened and I was grateful to renew our friendship. I wept a bit in front of my old friend, Francis – Francesco. It was healing. 

I knew going forward our relationship would be different. Less formal. No fancy tunics or cinctures. No burdensome institutional labyrinths. Just he and I living the journey in simplicity, purity and fidelity. I told him it was likely I wouldn’t be perfect. He agreed with that and said he enjoyed my company and friendship anyway.

He encouraged me to forgive myself and to forgive others that had hurt me especially in the Franciscans. This was difficult. He also encouraged me to ask forgiveness for those I had hurt. That was even more difficult. Pride said I need not look in that direction. 

After some time, we began to laugh. Yes, to really laugh, heartily. We told stories and laughed some more. How comfortable the chill of the desert felt with his presence. He gently helped me to see my part in my departure from the Franciscans. Seek the truth, he encouraged. I needed this gentle clarity. I understood with greater awareness that maturity, my growth in maturity, takes time. I became more aware of the disparity between ideals and reality.

And then another figure approached in all this laughter and sharing. And it was Him for whom our hearts burned – in all his humanity. He too sat down with us by the edge of the Palo Duro Canyon and these three friends began to laugh. To really laugh and to tell more stories. Stories seem to unit us, don’t you think? How full our hearts were. This, this is the man for whom Francis danced. I understood just a little bit more. How strange it was to be so free of all kinds of “churchy stuff” and we were just laughing and learning about love.

My heart was softened and I was grateful that on a dusty outcropping overlooking the Palo Duro Canyon, I reconciled with an old friend who remembered nothing of our falling out and only wanted to enjoy a friendship with me and re-introduce his friend, Jesus, to me, again. 

The night unfolded with many small joys and then Jesus rose, offered words of goodbye, and departed. Shortly after that, Francis, rose to go too and looked directly back at me as I sat near the cliffside and said, “Trust. Be not afraid. Trust.”

Shortly after that, I awoke. Or did I?

Post Script:

After experiencing the encounter highlighted above, and feeling the closeness of God and Francis in the panhandle of Texas, the next day was a little less joyful. You see, as the sun was rising in East Texas and I was driving along Route 60 headed West, a young driver fell asleep at the wheel of her van and slammed directly into the back of my Nissan Versa. She was traveling at least 80 miles an hour. She and I, thank God, were mostly unhurt but my car was totaled and I was in shock.

Why do I add this P.S. to my post? You see, the address on the business card of the tow truck driver who removed my squashed car from the highway was St. Francis Avenue. Was the renewal of friendships the night before this accident a dream or did it all really happen? For certain, the accident and tow truck were very real. Coincidence or God-incidence? You decide.

Remembrance of Harvey A. Whipple, Jr., DDS

Today is Father’s Day 2018. Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there and a Happy Father’s Day to my Dad who is celebrating this day in the great beyond.

It’s been a year and a few months since my Dad passed away and, of course, I still miss him. Who wouldn’t? I’ve decided on this Father’s Day, I would honor and remember my Dad by posting a reflection I shared with my cousins at a family luncheon held last fall. It reads as follows: 

Greetings, cousins! As we come together this year to celebrate family, I would like to take a moment to remember my Dad. As you know, he passed away this year. He loved coming to these events and his presence is greatly missed. 

I fondly remember the joy my father expressed at our first luncheon when he encountered his cousin Mary Louise after a long separation. He ran towards her like a little child filled with joy just to say hello. He remained close to her throughout the whole luncheon. I am also reminded of the affection my Dad displayed towards his sister Shirley when she attended our luncheon a few years ago. He truly enjoyed these luncheons and if you don’t mind, I would like to share with you a few thoughts about my Dad today.

My father, as many of you know, was a veteran, a man of music, a man of humor, a man of faith, a gentle gentleman, a quick wit, a story teller, a genealogist, a family historian, and a man with a great curiosity and interest in the lives of his loved ones. He was a man with great love for his patients, his friends, and his family. It’s hard to sum up my father’s life in a few words. 

My father was one of those rare bred of men who was raised in a era when honoring your family and doing your duty – humble or grand – were highly valued. He was raised in Cranston, Rhode Island where he made life long friends. He enrolled at Brown University after high school and shortly thereafter enlisted in the U.S. Army serving in post World War II Europe. A few years later, he was recalled to the Army to serve in Korea where he was a forward scout. Returning home to Rhode Island for a time, he then enrolled at Tufts University in Massachusetts followed by Dental School at Temple University in Philadelphia.

After securing his dental degree, he settled in Warren, Rhode Island and began raising nine children with his beloved wife Lesa. For most of his life, being a dentist and a father took up the bulk of his time and energy. There were cavities to fill, bills to pay, children’s concerts to attend, and camping trips to enjoy. 

My father found great joy and happiness being with his friends and family. An event like this luncheon, was one such occasion to enjoy time with his cherished family. Life was very uncomplicated for him. Spending time with loved ones was simply the highlight of his life. Period.

I experienced a touching example of this a year ago. I remember watching my Dad at my brother Nathan’s house about a year ago. It may have been at his birthday party during the last 4th of July. There was all kinds of things going on. People were coming and people were going. Nathan and his wife, Mara, were hosting one of their many family events during the summer. It was a very joyous time. I noticed that my dad, sitting in the midst of all this, was delightfully happy. There he was, holding a sweating Manhattan, and simply looking about with the serene face of a happy man. Really happy. No tomorrow. No yesterday. Just today. Happy to be with his family. I like to keep this memory of my Dad alive in my heart. 

My father loved his children. He loved us not by saying the words, “I love you.” He loved us with his actions and his deeds. If you would be so kind, allow me to share one story of how my father loved more with his actions than with his words. It relates to his gift of listening. 

One late summer weekend many years ago, I decided to drive to the Cape from my home in Vermont. This wasn’t that unusual and upon my arrival at my Dad’s house my father was sitting at the kitchen table with his pal Fogelberg, a family cat. He asked me about my drive down and how my car was holding up – general introductory banter.

After some time, we began to talk about my job at the American Red Cross – Blood Services and I chatted and he listened. It wasn’t an overly interesting presentation on my part but my father listened eagerly and asked many engaging questions. The weekend went on and I enjoyed some time with my Dad – nothing terribly unusual.

On Sunday afternoon, after saying my goodbyes to my Dad, I began my drive back to Vermont. While I was driving, I heard a distinct voice in my heart say, “You’re not as interesting as you think you are.” I paused and responded to this “voice” by saying, “What do you mean?” And the “inner voice” said, “Your Dad. He listens to you and all his children with an attentive heart not because you’re all extraordinarily interesting or because your stories are so compelling but because he loves you.” I was taken aback by this experience and I still remember this “voice” or experience quite distinctly. And then it became clear, my Dad wasn’t just listening to me, he was loving me. As he loved all his children. My dad listened because he loved. This “voice in my heart” was teaching me something new about my Dad. I treasure this memory and the reminder of how my father loved.

My dad loved gardening. I always remember he had a garden at every place he lived. In Touisset, where he lived in Warren, Rhode Island, the garden was quite large. On Cape Cod, where my Dad retired, the garden was less expansive and generally more oriented towards flowers than tomatoes – though he loved growing tomatoes. His specialty on Cape Cod was gladiolas. He loved his gladiolas.

Every spring he would prepare and plant gladiola bulbs. He had dug up these bulbs from last year’s batch of flowers. He loved the dirt and gardening. For those of you who also love to garden, I’ve brought a few gladiola and daffodil bulbs for you to take home with you and to plant in your own gardens in memory of my Dad. When you plant the bulbs in the spring and see the blossoms rising through the dirt, I hope you might be reminded of my Dad and his love of gladiolas and his love for you.

My father loved music. There are few among us who knew my father for any length of time that didn’t come to find out my Dad loved listening, playing and even writing some music. Whether it was the sound of our family piano being played in our living room or the strumming of guitar chords around an open fire on a camping trip, my father shared his love of music with us. 

We would often gather together with family and friends to sing all kinds of popular American folk and religious tunes. Most recently when he was asked what his favorite music was he replied, “Anything from the 1940’s.” I can now imagine my Dad in the great beyond joyfully tapping his foot to the sounds of the Glenn Miller band.

The last few weeks of my Dad’s life were filled with grace and family. As his health failed, he was initially cared for by the good folks at Cape Cod Hospital and then he transitioned to hospice care at McCarthy House in Sandwich, Massachusetts. His spirits remained buoyant and optimistic right to the very end.

My Dad enjoyed sailing on Cape Cod with some of his children so it might be fitting to close my thoughts, and say so long to my Dad, by sharing a poem about sailing and the great beyond. The poem is entitled, “Gone From My Sight.” It’s written by Henry Van Dyke. You might be familiar with it. It goes like this…

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,

spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts

for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.

I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a

speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says, “There, she is gone.”

Gone where?

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,

hull and spar as she was when she left my side.

And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me — not in her.

And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,”

there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices

ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”

And that is dying…

It is my hope my father was welcomed into that distant port on the mysterious other side with glad shouts of, “Here he comes! Here he comes!”

Memorial Day 2018

6E9178A9-81A9-4008-B452-72EA4FB77ACAThis weekend we celebrate Memorial Day in the United States of America. Truth be told, for many years, I never understood what or who we were honoring on this day in late May. For me, it was just a long weekend marking the beginning of summer. 

Growing up in Rhode Island, the Memorial Day holiday was a weekend of cookouts, pool parties and family fun. In my later youth, living on Cape Cod, this day included some of the festivities of the earlier days but with more traffic and more ocean. I never really understood we were honoring men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country. I understand this now.

They tell me, 150 years ago the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic established what we today call Memorial Day. Then, it was a day set aside to honor the men who died in defense of the Union in the Civil War. Today, it has grown to be a national holiday celebrated to honor women and men who gave their lives in defense of this country in every war.

A few years ago while doing some genealogical research, I was re-introduced to an ancestor of mine who gave his life for his country. He fought for the Union cause and died in 1862. His name was William H. Wood. 

William was the brother of my 2nd great-grandmother, Harriet Wood, making him my 3rd great-uncle. My paternal grandmother, the granddaughter of Harriet Wood, told me about her Great-Uncle William who died in the Civil War. I wasn’t much impressed with this story back then but the memory of this conversation returned to me later in life and it touches me deeply today.

William married Phebe Lloyd and they had a number of children with only one reaching adulthood. William worked for the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company in Sandwich, Massachusetts before volunteering to serve in the Massachusetts 29th Infantry Regiment, Company D. He mustered on May 22, 1861. The records tell us he died on January 16th 1862 in Newport News, Virginia of  yellow fever. He is buried on a lonely knoll in Bayview Cemetery in his hometown of Sandwich, Massachusetts.

For a few years, I searched for William’s grave with no luck. Last year, after pouring over old cemetery plot maps, which provided no indication that William was buried in Bayview Cemetery, I decided to take a stroll down one of the rarely used cemetery pathways. I had walked this pathway before but for some reason I missed the stone. This day was different and my eye was drawn to the left as I strolled along on this summer day. 

I was surprised when I saw the name, “Wood” on a nearby stone. “Could it be?” I wondered. Upon closer observation, I read the name William. There it was. “I’ll be darned,” I thought to myself. It was bit moss-covered but there it honorably stood on a knoll near other graves of that era.

I paused for a moment in gratitude for discovering the grave and in silent honor for the sacrifice William made so many years ago. I thought about the feelings William must have experienced dying all alone in the far away land of Newport News, Virginia. I also thought about my ancestors gathered on this hill to say their goodbyes to William over 150 years ago.

After a few moments of solemnity, my mood changed to delight at my discovery. I called a friend of mine, exclaiming, “You’re not going to believe who I found!” After sharing who I had discovered, I suggested we meet at the cemetery, say a few words of thanks and enjoy a picnic on the hill. After cleaning up the stone a little bit, we did just that! 

It’s probably an odd thing to honor a soul with both quiet reverence and a joyful picnic. We humans are interesting that way. Sometimes life isn’t either/or but rather and/both. We celebrated with a touch of solemnity and then with a touch of joyful jocularity on the hill that day.

This year, I was hoping to return to Sandwich, Massachusetts on Memorial Day to place a flag on my great-uncle’s grave in honor of his service. Unfortunately, my health limits my ability to travel this spring so I must honor my Great-Uncle William in a different way from afar.

And as I honor my great-uncle, I also honor all the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. I am especially reminded of those soldiers, like my Great-Uncle William, who didn’t die on the raging battlefield of war but died from associated circumstances of conflict in a more remote location. They too died heroically and gave their all for their country.

I’m thinking of men and women who return from war, even to this day, living for a time with PTSD, physical wounds, chemical exposure illnesses, depression, etc. only to die far removed from the conflict from the lingering consequences of their war-time duty. Lives cut short. Not all war-related deaths take place on the battlefield.

So this Memorial Day, as we celebrate the holiday with barbecues and family get-togethers, I am keenly aware of the reason for the holiday and I know that I will be one of the many Americans who takes a moment to reflect upon the honor, courage and commitment displayed by those men and women who died in service to their country. We owe them a great debt of gratitude. May your Memorial Day festivities be filled with solemn remembering, joyful celebrating and lasting family memories.

Robert J. Healey

Robert J. Healey

I always liked Bob Healey and followed his political career from afar. Though I left Rhode Island shortly after high school, I always remembered this long-haired substitute teacher who occasionally filled in for my straightlaced and no-nonsense senior year high school English teacher, Mrs. Mary D. Parks.

Bob, or Mr. Healey, as I knew him, came sauntering into my senior English class one day with his distinctive gait and placed his worn leather attaché case on the equally worn oak desk in front of the class.

Before he launched into the day’s lesson, he paused and announced to the class he was going to teach us how to remember to spell a few uniquely spelled words. I sat there with great anticipation.

Mr. Healey walked up to the chalkboard and begin scribbling a word with the white chalk. He spelled out in big sweeping letters the word “W E I R D.”

I was wondering where he was going with this but I liked his whole theatrical demeanor and he had my attention. I suspect he held the attention of others in the class as well.

So, he begins his English lesson about words spelled with “ei” or “ie.” You remember the drill, “I before E except after C with some exceptions.” At any rate, he turned to the class with his long black hair all tossed about and proclaimed to us he had a sure-fire way to remember how to spell the word, “Weird.” He still had my attention; I was waiting with bated breath.

With characteristic flair, he circled the letters, “W” and “E” in the word “weird” on the chalkboard. I think he circled the letters twice for emphasis. He then proclaimed, “You can always remember how to spell this word by remembering WE are all weird. All of us.” Again, emphasizing the “we” in the word “weird”with two taps of the chalk under the letters “W”and “E.”

Now this struck me deeply. You see, I was a particularly insecure high school student at the time and felt quite unique in my own personal weirdness. I was often intimidated by the seemingly normative, and ever so cool, deportment of my classmates. THEY didn’t seem weird at all. And I thought I was pretty weird.

This proclamation by Mr. Healey changed my view of my high school universe and I suddenly felt that even though Mike, Tim and I (my high school buddies) would often spend Friday afternoons reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five and writing zany poems, we were actually part of a larger world filled with weird people. In this moment, I suddenly felt like I belonged to a larger school community because, truth be told, according to Mr. Healey, we all were weird. This fact was most comforting to me.

I found out later, Mr. Healey was a perennial candidate for public office and once ran a campaign with the slogan, “A Strange Man for a Strange Job.” He indeed knew the power of being weird. He seemed to even revel in it.

Mr. Healey regularly ran for the office of Lieutenant Governor in Rhode Island. He actually ran on a platform of abolishing the office of Lieutenant Governor. This cracked me up! “Good for you, Bob Healey,” I thought to myself when I heard of his plans. He garnered 39% of the vote and over 126,000 Rhode Islanders voted for him in his 2010 race!

Mr. Healey may not have been wildly successful in politics but he was right about two points he raised as a teacher. First, I’ve always remembered how to spell the word “weird”even though the word “receive” sometimes still stumps me. And second, like Mr. Healey, my life experiences have proven to me we are all a little weird. Ain’t it grand!?

Do you remember a teacher from your youth who taught you a life lesson that remained with you well into adulthood? Please share it below.

Love, Grief, and Healing

IMG_2819 CA few days ago was the first anniversary of my Dad’s death. On March 7, 2018, it was one year since my Dad passed away.

On the morning of this anniversary, I was in an orthopedic surgeon’s office being poked and prodded by the doctor after suffering an extraordinarily painful herniated disc. As I hobbled around the doctor’s office, I had a chance to think about many things.

First, I thought of my Dad. Next, I thought of my love for him and the grief love engenders. I also thought about what it meant to be a loving human being in a world that, at times, seems a bit harsh. And truth be told, mostly, I thought about the reality of a painfully exploded disc which sent jelly-like detritus northward into my spinal column compressing a highly sensitive nerve which ordinarily served my legs entirely without notice or clamor.

I believe all these things are related. Let me explain.

Grief is a tricky emotion. If you listen to some of the experts on the subject, you’ll learn about stages and processes. As a former project manager with a very linear and methodical mind, this all sounds so neat and tidy.

Experts tell us during grief we experience denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and then acceptance. I’m no expert on grief but like many of us, I’ve walked through my share of losses – some sudden and others expected.

Each experience of grief for me was different and painful in its own unique way. Sometimes it’s subtle and other times it’s blunt. Most importantly, the process after each death wasn’t neat and tidy at all but more like riding a poorly greased roller coaster with unexpected bumps and curves. So much for a neat linear process.

I do know one thing. Grief and love are linked. It’s somewhat like investing. Love is the principal we invest and grief is the interest earned on our investment. The more you’ve invested the more interest you will earn. If you grieve much, good for you, you’ve invested much in love.

I know another thing, on this roller coaster ride of life, it’s good to have a friend or two along capable of sitting in the steel car with you. Though highly personal, grief does appreciate company every now and again. It’s especially comforting to know we are not alone and others have made this journey too.

Grief seems to impact all parts of the human person. You may have heard of the mind/body connection discussed in recent health literature. This concept suggests our mind and our emotions can impact our physical health. I believe in these ideas and particularly when it involves acute experiences.

As I stood in the surgeon’s office looking at the results of my MRI, seeing – in all magnetic clarity – my herniated disc and protruded nucleous, I thought to myself, “THERE is my grief and all the emotions attached to it. It’s all exploded out of the disc rupturing the outer core and settling into my spinal column compressing the root of a nerve. Painful, raw and real.”

While these mind/body theories are controversial, I believe they do have merit and it’s important to address healing from many different perspectives. We are, after all, comprised of mind, body and spirit.

So, healing from loss and healing from physical trauma are interrelated for me. My journey with a wide variety of health conditions has proven this to be true. We are a complex system and not just disparate and unconnected parts.

Part of our system, often over looked, is our spiritual connection to a Higher Power and to each other. Truth is, we are not alone as we journey towards fullness of life and health. We walk with each other and we walk with God.

I’m more and more convinced God walks closely with us especially during times of pain and loss. Time and again, I’ve heard others say this is their experience too. Could this be true for you? I actually had a very odd experience happen to me about a week or two before my disc herniated supporting this notion.

One morning, prior to visiting some friends, I was quietly praying. I’m not one of these people who regularly hears God talking to them or “receives” a word from God in prayer. Mostly God is pretty silent with me. I look at Him, and He looks at me. I’m most dubious when someone tells me God told them this, that or the other thing. Having said that, I am about to tell you such a story.

On this morning, some weeks ago, I heard a folksy locution which said, “Don’t worry. I’ve got your back.” I found this “voice” somewhat strange and so I mentioned it to a friend.

It was strange for three main reasons. First, I haven’t heard such a locution before this moment. Second, my back – to the best of my knowledge – was perfectly well at this time and so I interpreted this message to be a general comment of support. And finally, the voice seemed so casual and light; it certainly wasn’t a Hollywood “God Almighty” kind of voice. All these reasons saw me dismissing this experience and I promptly forgot all about it.

Fast forward two weeks later and I was driving down the road after my orthopedic appointment with the same friend I had mentioned this locution to a few weeks earlier. I said to her, “Do you remember the message I mentioned hearing a few weeks ago?” She replied, “Yes, you said you heard a voice say, ‘Don’t worry. I’ve got your back.’” We both looked at each other incredulously and I said, “Maybe God or my guardian angel is looking out for my back?” My driver and friend smiled and said, “There’s no doubt in my mind that God was looking out for you and your back. In the message, he was giving you consolation in advance.” With some uncertainty, I thought to myself, “Perhaps.” I did, however, have a distinct feeling of peace and experienced an “all is well” kind of feeling.

So, as I continue walking through my grief and enter the second year after my father’s passing, I’m more aware of the relationship between mind, body and spirit. I’ve got both back healing and emotional healing to do. There is much joy in all this – though it does come at a price. And mostly, through it all, I am deeply grateful because I don’t need to worry; healing will unfold and God has my back!

Proof There Is A God

imageOn a recent Sunday afternoon I went to the Tucson Symphony Orchestra for their matinee production. It was a nice enough event but as I sat there during the end of the program, I said to myself, “I wish Tucson had a professional hockey team. Phoenix has one. Even an AHL team would do. I’m in the mood for live hockey!”

As I left the Tucson Music Hall and walked towards my car I glanced up and saw the spires of the cathedral. I decided to bring my hockey question to the Lord. “Lord, why doesn’t Tucson have a professional hockey team,” I asked? He gave no immediate answer.

Feeling curious, I returned to my car and googled “hockey and Tucson.” I thought maybe the University of Arizona supported a team or perhaps in the past the city had a professional hockey organization.

Much to my surprise, my Google query returned a link to a headline proclaiming the 2016-2017 season as the inaugural year for the Tucson Roadrunners, an American Hockey League (AHL) affiliated hockey team. Surprise! Surprise!

My joy at this information was real. I then wondered what might be their schedule this year. I googled that information as well. Much to my surprise, there was a game being played at home at that very minute. The Tucson Roadrunners were playing in the Tucson Convention Center. “Oh Lord, this couldn’t be true! Was there hockey being played in the building right behind me?”

Still wearing my blue blazer and fancy Panama straw hat made in Spain, appropriate for the symphony but maybe not AHL hockey, I scampered towards the Tucson Convention Center doors.

My enthusiasm got the better of me and I asked a very robust man with a few days of facial hair growth standing outside the center intently enjoying his cigarette if there was a hockey game going on in the building. “Yes,” he said, “The first period had ended and it’s a pretty good game.”

In my excitement, I poured out my most recent conversation with the Lord about Tucson and hockey to this gentleman and wife. He paused, grinned a bit and pulled out his extra ticket and said, “And here’s your ticket!”

Thinking he was selling tickets, I asked him how much. He replied, “Don’t worry about it. Enjoy the game.”

So, I entered the convention center and enjoyed the last two periods of an exciting AHL hockey game. It was an answer to a prayer.

This proves, there is a God. 😉

Finding Cousin Richard

Sometimes hard work and perseverance set the stage for genealogical success. Other times, serendipity and chance set that stage. Finding Cousin Richard was one of those endeavors which relied more upon providence and chance than upon skilled genealogical research. Here is the story.

On December 4, 1951, Jean Frank, then known as Mrs. Richard Edward Raybold III, gave birth to a boy and he was named Richard Raybold. Richard’s father was also named Richard Raybold as was his deceased great uncle, Richard Edward Raybold, Jr. Additionally, his great grandfather was named Richard Edward Raybold, Sr. This Richard, Jean Frank’s little boy, was the fourth in a proud line of men with the name Richard Raybold.

Sadly, the marriage between Richard III and Jean Frank ended in divorce. Like many divorces, this separation included heartache and loss. Young Richard, you see, and his mother remained in Ohio where she eventually remarried. As the story unfolds, the younger Richard’s step-father understandably wanted to cut ties with the past and establish a new family with a bright future. In light of this fact, Richard, at 12 years old, was renamed Jonathan Jenson.

As the years went by and the distance increased, various Raybold family members unsuccessfully attempted to locate and communicate with Richard Raybold. His own biological father tried to contact him early on in the separation but met with resistance. Interestingly, when the younger Richard, now known as Jonathan, came to adulthood his own attempts to contact his father, Richard III, were complicated because in the 1970’s Richard Edward Raybold III legally changed his name to Marshall Blake.

Eventually Jonathan Jenson’s curiosity about his Raybold roots led him to research his family through ancestry.com. Remember, Jonathan was called Richard Raybold, Dick to his friends, for the first twelve years of his life. His Raybold awareness was keen. While he appreciated his new family, he always identified as and felt like a Raybold.

Jonathan’s search throughout the years paralleled searches being carried out by no less than three members of his extended Raybold family. Jonathan Jenson was considered by some to be “The Lost Raybold.” While he was searching for his roots, members of his Raybold family were also searching for him. It was in this context that Richard Raybold/Jonathan Jenson was found.

One of the reasons it was difficult to find Jonathan was the fact that the people looking for him used the wrong spelling of his name. They all thought his name was spelled “John Jensen” and they used this name in their searches. It’s no wonder they kept coming up short.

In early 2016, Jonathan Jenson established an ancestry.com account and began populating his family tree with the information he had about his Raybold family. He entered about ten Raybold names into his family database and then backed off from using his account any further.

About six months later, I, his cousin, was doing research on our shared great grandfather, Richard Edward Raybold, Sr. using ancestry.com to do my research. As providence, or luck would have it, my ancestry.com account displayed Jonathan’s data as a possible hint (or a possible lead) for corroborating information about Richard Raybold.

I was stunned when I saw the name “Jonathan Jenson” on my computer screen. “Could this be ‘The Lost Raybold’ for whom I had been searching for over 15 years,” I thought to myself? Thinking his name was “John Jensen,” I still wasn’t sure this was the former Richard Raybold for whom I searched.

I decided trying to contact him through ancestry.com was my next step. As Jonathan was no longer actively using his account, I didn’t expect my message would receive a prompt reply. Because of this, I decided using Facebook for a search of Jonathan Jenson might be helpful.

I had searched on Facebook for him previously but as I was using the wrong spelling of his name I came up empty-handed. This time, I had a different spelling of his name and clearly, based on his ancestry.com activity, Jonathan Jenson was a person looking for information on the Raybold family. Perhaps he was my man! Hope springs eternal.

With some excitement, I typed in “Jonathan Jenson” into the search field on my Facebook page and within a few moments 100s of Jonathan Jensons filled my screen. I was discouraged by the volume of names. How would I ever find “my” Jonathan Jenson in this list? Whispering a little prayer, I started to contact the lengthy list of Jensons by sending them private messages.

Interestingly enough, my first inquiry, to a “Jon Jenson,” was returned with a somewhat cryptic yet intriguing message. I had written, “Hi Jon, Does the name Raybold mean anything to you?” His response was, “It might, how did you come across me?” His “It might” gave me hope but it also fueled my concerns that possibly Jonathan Jenson, the former Richard Raybold, did not want to be contacted. This, actually, was a concern that was greatly on my heart. I was, however, undaunted.

I decided to contact other people with the last name Jenson connected to the Jon Jenson on this Facebook account. My next inquiry was sent to a “Kathy Jenson.” Again, the same question. This time the return message was much more definitive. She responded, “Yes, this was my husband’s last name before he was adopted as a young child.” I was both amazed and thrilled to have actually found a real connection to “The Lost Raybold.” Moreover, I was shocked to have found him through the first person named Jonathan Jenson I contacted on Facebook! It turns out, the Jon Jesnson I initially contacted on Facebook was actually the son of “The Lost Raybold,” Jonathan Jenson, Sr.

Now, many questions ran through my mind about Jonathan Jenson. Was he alive? Did he want to reconnect with his Raybold family? Would he be upset with me for bringing up a possibly tender subject about his earlier life? I proceeded with some care.

As it turned out, Jonathan’s wife was delightful and she contacted me from the hospital where her husband was recovering from a recent procedure. This Jonathan Jenson, Sr. was indeed “The Lost Raybold.” Moreover, Jonathan, as I was told through his wife, was eager to talk with me after he recovered from his hospital stay. I was elated!

Within five minutes of returning from the hospital, Jonathan Jenson sent me a message through Facebook indicating he was interested in talking. When we talked, Jonathan told me my reaching out to him was an answer to a prayer and a true blessing. I was greatly relieved and remembered the short prayer uttered some days earlier.

As our initial contact and communication unfolded, Jonathan was delighted to learn he descends from at least nine different Mayflower passengers. He was also eager to reconnect with more contemporary members of the Raybold family. The Waterman – Raybold Family holds a yearly luncheon in Sandwich, MA. Jonathan, and his wife Kathy, are eager to join the clan and take their seats at the Raybold table next year. I am eager, like many, to welcome them.

Bikers, Mexicans and Trump

Sammy'sThis political season, I had originally intended to keep my political musings off my Facebook page. And I was certainly not going to write about politics on my blog.

Last time I delved into politics on Facebook, I lost a few friends. One was an old girlfriend that left in huff because of my political postings. She left stammering after my logic defied her. It wasn’t pretty and I felt the loss. This year, I decided to keep a low profile.

Having said that, even though I’ve attempted to avoid politics, politics have found me. And like many other things, it came through my stomach. Let me explain.

Today is primary day in Arizona. Evidently, this past weekend there were many rallies in Tucson and throughout the state. At one rally in particular, a Latina co-owner of a Mexican restaurant held up a sign saying, “Latinos for D. Trump.”

It turns out the woman holding the sign, Betty Rivas, was the co-owner of Sammy’s Mexican Grill.

Sammy’s was my “go to” Mexican restaurant when I first stumbled into Tucson, Arizona with my lonely and hungry heart. I often mentioned to Betty that her carne asadas were so good because she always made them with love. Love, I told her, always makes the difference. She always laughed and seemingly agreed.

Betty’s husband, Jorge, always took my order of six carne asadas and, suspecting I was on a tight budget, in his goodness allowed an extra carne asada to find its way into my take out bag once or twice.

Moreover, Jorge indulged me as I tried to practice my Spanish with him even though he spoke English. They were good people and they were good to me.

This was especially true the first year I came to Arizona. During my first year in Tucson, about four years ago, they in fact moved from a shared location to their own restaurant. I was happy for their success.

Fast forward a few short years later and I hear from a friend that Sammy’s is being boycotted by people because of a sign held up by Betty at the Trump rally in Tucson. These were my restaurant friends and they were being treated poorly. Politics had found me.

Betty evidently caught Trump’s attention and was brought up onto the stage. Trump said he loved her sign. This public display of support was enough to trigger a landslide of reaction against Sammy’s owners.

People took the time to flood the internet with negative restaurant ratings which could significantly and negatively impact the economic stability of Sammy’s. I didn’t think this was fair. They also called Betty and Jorge and made threatening remarks. Sad. Has our civil discourse come to this?

Now, I’m not sharing with you my political leanings. Everyone knows, I am a Catholic and my politics are impacted by my faith. This, however, tells you very little about which particular candidate I like the best this year. And, I will keep that private.

It’s like my sexual orientation. I have one. I’m just not going to share it with you. Those who need to know. Know. 😉

I digress.

Back to Sammy’s. I feel that a person has the right to articulate their political leanings as a private citizen without it adversely impacting them economically.

We live in a community and while I might disagree with you on a political issue, I’m not going to undermine you in a malicious way because of our differences. At the end of the day, we all live in the same community together. We all share an equal dignity and worth. It seems to me, we can agree to disagree if need be. Living in community means living with differences.

With this attitude in mind, I decided to go to Sammy’s with a friend for lunch to show my support for Betty and Jorge. We drove up to the parking lot in Catalina and began to look for a parking space. The place was packed. We, apparently, weren’t the only ones interested in supporting Jorge and Betty.

I parked my car in the lot and was immediately approached by a classic Arizona Harley Davidson biker dude. He had on the expected blue jeans with a leather jacket adorned with assorted motorcycle related patches. His chest was broad, his legs were thick and we could certainly call him a strapping Arizona man.

I looked at him and he returned my gaze somewhat sheepishly and shyly almost as if he was not only a biker dude but also a taciturn cowboy. And then he said to me, “Are you here to support the owners?” I responded, “Yes, I don’t think it’s fair what people are doing.”

His demeanor noticeably changed and a broad smile came upon his face as I transformed from being a stranger into an ideological friend. He promptly extended his thick five pound beefy hand and shook mine. He then exclaimed, “That’s why we’re here too.” As he said this, his strong calloused right hand came affectionately down upon my chest in a hearty and friendly THUMP!

He damn near knocked me over with biker dude enthusiasm as the palm of his open hand struck my chest. I felt he might next invite me into his club but I was so dazed by the “friendly” pat,  all I could do was to try to keep myself upright. I puffed up my chest in an attempt to look tougher but I think he knew I was faking it. I wasn’t really a tough guy.

The friend I was going to lunch with arrived about the same time I did and saw the whole interaction with my biker friend. As she approached me after my encounter, she did everything in her power not to burst out laughing.

The encounter was really so comical to watch. It was kind of like Easy Rider meets Barney Fife. “Yeah,” with a snort, a sniff and a tug on my belt, “I got some bullets in my weapon,” (which everyone knew was a lie).

My friend was kind of like Andy Griffith smiling with an affectionate and knowing smile, shaking her head and then saying, “Let’s go Barn. We’ve restored justice here. Let’s call it a day, before you get hurt.”

As quickly as he arrived, my biker friend disappeared into the restaurant heading in for some good Mexican fare celebrating the gift of free speech. May we all live together in mutual respect and peace.

A Winter Moment in the Desert

imageSome time ago, I awoke to find a dusting of snow covering the saguaros of the Sonoran desert where I live. I arose quickly knowing this new fallen blanket from the clouds would soon be gone. I was transfixed by all that surrounded me. The desert was seemingly transformed overnight.

As I turned to view the landscape, I noticed a stately saguaro on the crest of a hillside gleaming in the early morning sun and snow. I was struck by how the saguaro was nearly refashioned by the presence of snow on its outstretched arms. Additionally, the nearby cholla, though much shorter in stature, seemed to be plumped up and jumping for joy with the chilly refreshment all around. It was a remarkable scene for me.

To those who have lived all their lives in the desert, this scene is perhaps quite unremarkable. For me, however, being brought to the desert from far away, I was struck not only by all the beauty surrounding me but also, and I’m embarrassed to say this, by the very fact that it can snow in a desert environment. Even an environment that was a comfortable 65 degrees just twelve hours earlier. This was delightfully unexpected for me.

This surprising encounter with Mother Nature reminded me how we each awake to the new day to many unexpected experiences and opportunities.

As the snow quickly melted on the arms of the saguaro, I imagined this cactus was absorbing the winter water, quenching its January thirst, and building its inner reserves.

Similarly, I thought to myself, each one of us might be surprised by a “dusting of snow” in the desert of our experience of life but we can allow it to be, just like the saguaro, an unexpected way of growth, nourishment, and a way to build our inner “reserves” for a difficult day. Did you have a “surprise snowfall” today? What was it?

In the winter of our struggles there are many unexpected experiences offering hope and healing.These moments might include the timely meeting of an old friend at a holiday get together and hearing her share excitedly about the discovery of a new health protocol working for her. Or it might come in a more subtle way in a whispered suggestion to the ear of our hearts. The trick is to be ready or open for these unpredictable moments of awareness, don’t you think?

Remaining open often requires us to be vulnerable. The outstretched arms of the saguaro in the snow was a symbol of that openness and fragility for me. And we, like the strong old saguaro, can stand resolutely and patiently waiting with open arms to each new day whatever it might bring.

This desert snow fall, with its fleeting nature, also reminded me to enjoy life in the moment. For, like the snow in the desert, life quickly passes. This quiet pause, in the early morning, awoke my mind and heart from a bit of winter hibernation and allowed time for recollection in the frosty stillness. Life passes quickly; enjoy it!

So, these are just a few thoughts about my recent winter moment in the desert. There was quiet. There was peace. There was snow. It was all a grand surprise. And I was chilly but grateful. I look forward to my next desert surprise, however it may unfold.

By The River Side

image A few days ago I experienced a beautiful and blessed day. I thought I’d share a picture and a few words about it with you in this blog post.

The day included much – but a river, blades of grass, sunshine and God’s gentle touches all figure prominently.

The day was especially appreciated as my experience of God of late has been, well, let’s just say, He’s been seemingly quite remote. And it was after a few weeks of physical and spiritual suffering, that I won’t detail here as we each have our own variety, that these events unfolded.

It was a sunny but brisk fall day in rural New Mexico. It was one of those days when each event and encounter seemed especially created for me in love. Even the little meditation spot along the river I stumbled upon seemed to be carefully prepared with clean, fresh and dry hay. Such a place to sit. Just sit.

Perhaps it WAS all prepared for me? The God of my understanding is like that, you know. Loving, providential, present. Have you ever had such a day?

I sat on the side of the river bank and meditated. Just sitting.

Once, on a months long retreat at a Benedictine monastery in Vermont, it became difficult for me to sit and to meditate so I asked a friendly monk brother for help. I asked him what he thinks about when he is meditating. He responded by saying he tried not to think too much and he allowed himself to “just sit.” Sometimes when his mind wandered he would gently say to himself, “Just sitting.” And then he returned his attention to his breathing. I tried that on the side of this river. Just sitting.

When I opened my eyes after some time sitting, the nearby blade of grass jutting out into the air seemed to pulsate with the glory of God. It seemed for a moment all the mystery and beauty of nature was captured in that blade of grass. I could have meditated on that blade all afternoon.

“Heraclitus would have loved this river,” I thought to myself. He was known to have said, “You can’t step into the same river twice.” This river, flowing strong and always changing, reminded me of the impermanence of life.

When I considered the river with it’s flux and turbulence, I was also reminded of something I heard many years ago. God is in the rapids and in the flux as much as He is in the rocks and in the banks. No need to cling to safety and comfort. Let go. God is there.

I was captivated by all the beauty surrounding me near this river. The beauty didn’t seem to surround me so much as it penetrated me. It was moving through me. Piercing me.

All alone with God. It was a nice moment by the river side.

John Muir once wrote, “Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Camp out among the grasses and gentians of glacial meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of nature’s darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but nature’s sources never fail.” Nature’s peace flowing into you as sunshine flows into trees and cares dropping off like autumn leaves. True this, eh?

Do you know the Rio Grande was called El Rio de Nuestra Señora before it was called “Big River?” I suspect it had an even more majestic name prior to that. Subsequent to being named El Rio de Nuestra Señora, it was called El Rio Bravo, The May River and even The Turbulent River. I like the name Our Lady’s River (El Rio de Nuestra Señora) best, how about you?

As I carefully made my way up the river bank and back into civilization, a lone photographer walked by. A protective sun hat and a camera with a large lens indicated his pursuit. He said, “Beautiful colors and nice light today ‘eh?” I replied with a warm smile and a definitive, “Yes!” He recognized that my brief response was not an anti-social stance but rather a recognition, in silence, of the true awesomeness of the moment. He returned a smile and, understanding the moment, joined me in contemplating (alone but together) El Rio, the Cottonwood trees and the desert cacti at the base of The Mountains of the Holy Day.

May your day today be filled with such an adventure, mystery and beauty. It’s all there.

Where is a spot that you find health, healing and a communion with the Divine? Please share by leaving a comment.