Sensing the Spirit

worshipHere is a true story. It is one of the highlights and fondest memories of my life.  It was either late  fall 1980 or early 1981. I was expecting my third child , due in late February 1981. I had an appointment at my obstetrician for my regular checkup. It was cold yet sunny outside, but there was no snow. There had been some moisture which turned into small ice patches on the sidewalks and streets.

At this period of my life, we owned one car which my husband needed to get to and from his two jobs. It was a rough time, when he had to go immediately from his full time job to the part-time evening job. He saw the kids only on weekends. So anyway, I had to use the bus or cab service for any commutes beyond walking distance. On this particular day, I had enough money to pay for a one-way cab trip to the doctor’s, but would have to take the bus back home.

I called the local Blue Cab number and soon there was the sound of a horn in front of my house. I headed for the door nearest the curb, but the driver told me to “Come around to the street side.” I got in and settled directly behind the driver-a young man wearing a baseball cap. A talk radio station babbled as background noise. He looked at  me in his rearview mirror and asked “Where are you going?” I gave the address, a distinctive building, about four miles away-a fifteen minute ride .

Gosh, he was a talkative young man! He quickly turned the radio off so he could talk to me! I was always pretty quiet and didn’t usually open up to friendly cab drivers. But this guy was so engaging,so courteous. He talked and talked. We had an “eye to eye” conversation, looking at each other in the mirror. I couldn’t see his face, only his eyes. He asked a lot of questions. One was: why I was heading to this particular building? I said “Well, I’m going to the doctor”. He replied with a “Oh no, are you ill?” “No”, I said ,”just pregnant! It’s a regular checkup”. He congratulated me and then started talking about families, family size, schooling children, types of preschool education, Catholic education. Such an interesting and informed young man!

He explained to me that he was ‘completing studies’ and wondered if I wouldn’t mind answering some questions as it would help him with his research. Well, he had won me over with his kind and engaging personality, so I said sure. I really wanted to help him, he was that charming. I speculated that he was studying social work, psychology or education from how the conversation had gone. I didn’t mind answering his questions. Some of them were surprisingly personal, for example: “Why is there a five year gap between your last child and this new baby?”  Yes, that was one and the driver  apologized for their nature , but explained again how they would help in his studies .When I answered the questions he would then pull over and write copious notes on a clipboard.

While he questioned me, he volunteered some information about himself. He told me he was Canadian and studying here in Chicago. I told him I’d spent my honeymoon in Québec. He was familiar with the Château Montebello where we’d stayed and remarked that the G7 summit would be held there the next summer. I asked where he had come from in Canada. And I don’t remember what he told me. I do remember that as I ‘placed’ him geographically, I said ” Wow, you are a long way from home! ” He mentioned his studies here again and I asked if any of his family would visit or would be visiting (again I don’t recall if this was before or after Christmas) for the holidays. But he said no, he’d had no visitors from home.

He began to talk fondly about his family in Canada. He missed them. It was a large family- again I don’t remember the number. But for me to remember it as large; it would have to be at least seven children. I was surprised when he told me the age of his youngest sibling. Then he got quite somber and explained that his mother had died when he was in his teens . The youngest children were so very young to deal with the loss. I was so sad, hearing this. I asked if his father had had help from extended family. He said “Oh yes, thank God for family and for our neighbors”.

So for fifteen minutes, maybe a bit more, I had this most engaging, interesting conversation with a complete stranger. We continued to chat as we arrived in front of the doctor’s office. I moved to the middle of the back seat and leaned forward to finally look this guy in the face. He was writing on his clipboard. I said to him “You’ve talked so much about your studies…what exactly are you studying?” I stared at his profile as he smiled and continued to write. He said “Aw, you’ll never guess.” So I kind of took this as a challenge and I’m thinking, ‘this guy is just so nice,seems so good, so kind, so special’. And it popped into my head, I hesitated, but something insistently told me ‘go ahead, say it !!!’  And I blurted out “You’re studying in the seminary and you’re going to be a priest”. Well, he was so stunned, he slowly turned to look at me and then he just stared at me, eyes wide open. Didn’t say a word. There was no response. I then felt embarrassed and started to apologize, but he stopped me. He became so very serious and quiet. I paid him then, awkwardly, but he wouldn’t take my tip.

So the driver got out of the car and walked around, fiddled with my door and eventually got it open. He had taken his cap off and was holding it in both hands, standing there waiting. I studied him quickly and immediately thought he seemed older than the college student I had assumed he was.As I got out he walked up to me and took my arm. He was a shorter guy, slightly built and I said “Oh no, I’m just fine”. But he said “No, it’s icy, you might slip” and gripped more tightly. So I walked along with him and I did slip and he braced me, so I didn’t fall. We got to the door and I said “I’ll be fine”. Ever since I’d said those words to this man I had literally felt this ‘buzz’ for my boldness and then, too, for the obvious, serious effect they had had on this kind man. I was mystified that I’d spoken those words aloud- so unlike me!

I went into the building alone and stood by the elevators, still feeling the adrenaline or something. I wanted to jump or yell or run….some kind of very pleasant energy. I waited there a couple minutes. Suddenly the driver was standing there beside me. He handed me a post-it on which he had written the cab company number and some weird nickname referencing Canada (which I can’t remember). It was something silly like ‘Steve the Canuck’, or ‘Winnipeg Joe”. I looked at him and smiled. He moved to stand in front of me and said “Please call and ask for me anytime you need a ride. I’ll be happy to take you anywhere, no charge.” He was still very serious in his demeanor, but again with such kindness. He then said he wanted to return to take me home from my appointment and that I should call him.But I felt I had shaken him up enough for one day. So we said goodbye. A few months later, I asked for him when I ordered a cab….he ‘no longer worked there’ I was told.

That day, after my appointment, I was still so wired, I walked all the way home!!!  I was so full of joy about what had happened. As I walked all those blocks, I was often compelled to extend my arms up into the air for the pure joy of it. I kept thinking “Praise God”. I just couldn’t contain my happiness; it was as though I had witnessed a great thing.

For years I kept that post-it in my wallet. I prayed for “Steve the Canuck” every time I saw it. I prayed for him at bedtime for years. I still pray for him and I often wonder what happened to him. I am confident that some day , in this life or the next, the Lord will tell me. I’ll bet it’s a great story.

Here is the Father Michael ‘connection’—from the day I heard Father called a ‘seer’ (see Blessed Seer), I also had the sense that I had met him before. In the vestibule, I saw him in profile and instantly felt I knew him from somewhere. I know for that to be true a lot of dates/facts would have to gibe. From what I have tried to check and match up, I don’t think they do.

Long ago, I sent this story as an email to Father Michael. He never responded to it, not even with a “Gee, that was a great story” – which would have been the norm for him. Kind of odd… it leaves things open. I often wonder if the reason I saw the driver as older with his hat off -was that he was losing his hair.

Isn’t it wonderful to think that this could be about Father Michael ? Some things were so uncanny. No matter what though, I’ll always treasure my unique experience from long ago .

Father Michael would have turned 62 today.

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