2016 Lenten Reflection – Caroline

Thank you, Rebecca, for suggesting that I share my faith journey and my care for Central Congregational Church during this Lenten reflection. It was an unexpected gift to be asked.

My older brother Rick in NH and younger sister Jane in TX, heartily agree with me that we could not separate our faith from our daily life. You live your faith every day, whether appreciating the wonders of God’s glorious world or seeking guidance in the centuries’ old wisdom of the Bible, or caring for others, your faith grows and evolves with you. And in turn, as I will attest today, your faith is with you when you need it on the darkest days and in the dead of night. You are never alone.

To begin at the beginning, my parents met in the Grace Church choir in Providence. Dad had been a boy soloist there, and was in the men’s choir by the time he was a freshman at Brown. My mother, four years younger and a violinist at an early age, was in the youth choir. They harmonized throughout the rest of their lives together, and taught us to do the same.

Music in fact, played a major role in our family’s life – and in our spiritual life – for as long as I can remember. It’s hard not to learn harmony when you stand in church every week between two choristers who never needed the hymnal for even the fourth or fifth verses of many songs. And I can still hear my Dad singing “The Strife is O’er”.

My brother had their musical gifts – in spades! He also was a boy soloist, had perfect pitch, and could play the piano by ear by the time he started classical piano lessons at 5 years old.

My younger sister Jane and I – well, not so much! My concert career ended during my first recital at 6 years old when I couldn’t find Middle C on the piano at the William H. Hall Free Library; actually there was no keyhole on the piano just below Middle C, which was how I oriented myself.

The great lesson in this, which our parents reminded us of regularly, was that God graced each of us with our own gifts, which were to be shared and not hidden under a bushel. Comparisons to others weren’t to be made. Acceptance, patience and hard work were expected of all.

The converse of this was that we weren’t allowed to criticize anyone – whether friend or imagined “foe” – without also finding something good to say about the person. Aidan’s toothpaste lesson this past Sunday was so spot on!

Part of our faith was to take responsibility for our family and others, and yes, even to have the courage sometimes to face danger and act on another’s behalf. After my Aunt Connie’s husband died of a massive heart attack at 42 years old, Dad literally wore a rut in the road driving us back and forth between RI and CT to keep watch over the whole family. This was never a chore, as we had such a wonderful time together. Aunt Connie was a microbiologist, who knew the woods and streams like the back of her hand, and introduced us on nature walks to every new pollywog and bird’s nest within a mile of their home. There was never any question but this was God’s world for us to respect and love.

When my parents’ best friends and their children who were our best friends, were transferred from Rhode Island to Spokane, Washington, Dad promised we would visit the next year. Before there was a single federal highway in place, a AAA Triptik mapped out a 13,000 mile journey for us. Off we went in our wooden-sided station wagon to visit every National Park west of the Mississippi, singing all the way, and rolling into our friends’ driveway in Spokane midway through the trip. Awestruck with the grandeur of God’s creation as we saw the Rocky Mountains, the Painted Desert, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Yellowstone, we understood that our prayers and faith were as valid outdoors as in a manmade structure.

The clear message was that God is everywhere. You just have to seek Him out. Little did we know how often we would want and need to do that as our lives unfolded.

I’d like to focus my faith journey as an adult by telling you about my life with my sister and her family, with apologies to all the family and friends and churches that are such a part of my whole faith odyssey. After graduating from Brown, I moved to the Boston area, which allowed me to pursue a wonderful career, and to be near my sister, who had married and begun a family. Within ten years, I had a beautiful niece and three adorable nephews. To outward appearances, it might have seemed that all was well, but not to a sister. I returned from a trip to find that my beautiful Janie was being abused and threatened. My sister even became a Catholic – like her husband – in hopes that would help. Sadly, it became apparent that divorce was the only solution to keep them all safe.

Months later, on the night before the court date, we agreed I would stay with the four children. Around 10:00 pm, tires could be heard on the crushed stone. There was no knock on the door. Instead he came through the barn to the kitchen door, and just broke it down. I was upstairs in the bedroom right above the kitchen. After pulling the phone off the wall, he bolted up the back stairs into the bedroom, yelling that he was going to call every one of my sister’s friends until he found her.

I calmly reminded him that this behavior was exactly why I had sent Jane away until the next morning. Finally, he left, taking her phone directory. I looked down the long hall to see four pair of eyes in the darkness. All four jumped into bed with me. Not long after that, the youngest two – Patrick and Bill – proudly told their friends that no one should mess with their Aunt “Calorine.”

With our parents’ help, we became a team, perhaps a force is a better term. The kids would often come with me to New Hampshire for the weekend, to visit “Fa and Didi” – my parents now living in Durham, and to stay with me in Portsmouth.

In God’s amazing way, within another 10 years, Jane began seeing a wonderful man and when he had a great job offer in Dallas, TX, they decided to marry. His Dad told him he was crazy to marry a woman with 4 kids, and during my toast to them at their wedding, emotion overtook my plans, and I threatened her husband that he would have to deal with me if he did not take care of her. Love conquered all: they had 30 years together through all that would follow.

Three years later, on March 7th 1987, my phone rang in Lexington at 3:00 o’clock in the morning. My sister, in Dallas, was calling to say the police in Plymouth, NH, where Patrick was a freshman in college, had just called. They said he had been hit as a pedestrian by drunk and drugged kids who drove away and left him in the road. He was on his way in an ambulance to the Concord NH hospital’s trauma center. They told her to bring a black dress as they had no expectation he would survive. How quickly could I get there? They would fly in later that morning.

As I arrived at the hospital, I was led into the emergency room where his broken body lay on the steel table. A nurse was pumping oxygen into his lungs with a bellows. A bone shot through his leg, and his handsome face was almost unrecognizable. They said they would have him hooked up in the ICU in half an hour and I could be with him after that. As I walked through the doors, a young woman came up to me and said, “You must be Patrick’s aunt. I am his nurse. My name is Faith.”

The neurosurgeon said they were hoping to get him through the night. Patrick was an incredible athlete, and given his age of 19, the doctor said there was a glimmer of hope. But he warned that he was so deep in a coma, that even if he came out of it eventually, as he put it, “the whole family will be traumatically brain injured for the rest of his life.” He told my sister to go back to work in Texas, to keep the medical insurance going. She continued to fly north every weekend and I – with loving family, priests from his Catholic high school, competing girlfriends and friends – kept the vigil going at the hospital. After 6 weeks, Patrick emerged. His nurses said we had pulled him out of the coma.

After 3 more months at New England Rehab, he was just beginning to learn to walk again, and to feed himself, when the hospital announced it was time to release him to another rehab, or home if Jane’s medical insurance wasn’t broad enough. While his birth father had visited occasionally throughout, we were stunned to hear that he had secretly gone to the head of the hospital to have Patrick declared mentally incompetent and to petition the court to become his sole legal guardian. His plan was to have Patrick stay with him in Massachusetts. BUT, BUT, he wanted my sister’s insurance to pay to take care of him.

I could hear my father’s voice calling down from heaven: “Remember Romans 12:19: ‘Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.’” And then Dad’s voice continued, “Don’t waste time in anger, you need a plan. Let’s go!!!”

In minutes, I contacted Jane’s divorce attorney from 15 years earlier. We swung into action: He prepared the papers while I raced into Boston to pick them up. I took them out to Logan and put them aboard a Delta flight to Dallas, where Jane and her husband were waiting to sign them, and put them on the return flight to Boston. I picked them up at Logan at the crack of dawn and returned them to the attorney. He filed them in Dedham court before Patrick’s father even filed his request to be the sole guardian. A guardian ad litem was appointed by the court who, after interviewing all parties, including Patrick, determined that the only way Patrick would be cared for – whatever the needs and for however long– was to be with his mother. That was Patrick’s wish from the beginning.

That was 1987. Almost 30 years later, Patrick, now 48, has been to at least 8 major rehabs all over the country.* He lives with his mother, and was such a great comfort to her and her husband – the man he lovingly called “Dad” – as her husband John suffered through 3 1?2 years of leukemia and passed away two years ago. Patrick has almost no short term memory, but we are all so lucky that his remote memory is quite intact, although sometimes embellished with creative in-fill. His sense of humor is still out of this world. I go to Texas whenever I can. Patrick is thrilled all over again every day to realize that I am there visiting, and we laugh ourselves silly over all that we have been through together.

One of the earliest letters Patrick sent home to me said: “I know that Fa (my Dad, his grandfather) talked to God about letting me live, as I have some important things to do.” His faith is unshakeable.

I think of my adult faith journey during those years as being “faith in action,” where the foundation I had been so fortunate to receive in my youth was called into service over and over again. I first came to Central while I was a student at Brown 50 years ago. It was the first time I had sought a church and faith community on my own. Throughout these years, and more than a dozen moves, I would visit Central again whenever I could, especially when my mom moved back to RI. It seemed to be my spiritual home.

In 2005 in Lexington, MA, I asked God where he would like me to be next. Doors opened for me to return to RI. I have driven hundreds of thousands of miles in my life. When I moved to Bristol, RI, I knew nothing could keep me from getting to Providence to attend this church I so loved, and be part of this family/congregation. Thank you all for sustaining and building this incredible community during all this time, and for offering to children and adults alike the foundation of faith, the irreplaceable trust of a family, and the orientation of action to serve the community in so many ways. I am lucky to be here.

Posted in 2016 Lenten Reflections, Lenten Reflections.