Serendipity and “Solsbury Hill”

Solsbury Hill
Solsbury Hill

Growing up with the music of the ’60s and ’70s, I wasn’t too familiar with Peter Gabriel’s work. But I listen to the oldies radio station and, alas, now 80’s and 90’s music is old. So I was pleased one day last summer when I heard Gabriel’s song “Solsbury Hill”. I was enchanted by the beat and the cheery melody. And the words…well nothing stuck out until I heard “Grab your things , I’m going to take you home”. Those certainly struck a chord with me. I thought of Father Michael and the possibility of his ‘going home’. I found myself listening attentively each time the song played.

Those oldies stations seem to group these songs in bunches and some then get played more frequently. I was hearing “Solsbury Hill” probably every other day. It was a trigger for some kind of meditation . First I enjoyed it and just thought it was beautiful. Then I’d sometimes focus more on the words and I would find it ominous . Peter Gabriel would belt out “my heart going boom, boom, boom,” and I would loudly sing over it, yelling “no, no, no!”. The song became a kind of anthem of Father Michael’s cancer journey for me. Eventually I reached a point where I’d hear the opening bars and a mellowness would come to me, a peacefulness. Instead of yelling “no, no, no”, I found myself smiling, joining in enthusiastically at “you can keep my things , they’ve come to take me home!”

So, in January this year, I wrote my weekly note to Father M. I wrote about how my experience had ‘evolved ‘ with this song – and how it always made me think about and pray for him. We never discussed it in person, though. Our time visiting was very limited and was constantly being interrupted. Play time of “Solsbury Hill” seemed to be waning on the radio.But it picked up again in February and March. As Father Michael’s journey began to wind down, the song was playing quite a bit once again.

March 27 was the day Father Michael died. It happened close to 9 am, but was never specified. I had attended Mass and for the very first time prayed for Father Michael’s “happy death”. Up till then I‘d held true to my promise of always praying for his complete healing. The presiding priest was quite frank about Father M’s state, so I knew it was time to change my prayer. I stayed after for a bit then went to my car and did my usual text to Father Michael. It was about 8:35. I drove home and pulled in front of my house. I was about to turn the car off, when “Solsbury Hill” started to play. I waited and listened and wondered “have they come to take him home?”

I got in the house, straightened up, made coffee and then looked at my computer. There was an email from the parish  :“Father Michael goes home to the Father”. I wept , but also prayed in thanksgiving. Later I wondered if “Solsbury Hill” had been playing shortly before 9…..a bit of serendipity? The oldies station has a website that publishes their playlists, past and future. I found March 27, scanned the time from 7am to 11am. The song was not listed! I suppose it was an omission or clerical error, but I also wonder if my hearing it that day wasn’t a special sign. It certainly felt that way and I believe in those things.

Father Michael always said he was a terrible dancer, but that his mother liked to dance with him,as songs played on the radio. She’d told him “You’re the only one with rhythm”. I used to say to him “ I bet you were a good dancer, Father M. I’m sure, because your own mother saw it”. He’d say “Oh,no, no”, but as his condition worsened, he loosened up and finally told me, “ You know, I really was a great dancer “. I ‘ll bet he’s dancing now…maybe to “Solsbury Hill” !



”I long for that”

I wrote this as a memory of Father Michael for my parish bulletin.  Editing there changed its meaning, so this is the real thing!

I corresponded with Father Michael by email beginning in May, 2012. I had some personal issues I needed to discuss with someone holy-and Father Michael surely was the man. In order to lay the groundwork for some of these, I first wrote several long emails to Father Michael.One of the long emails was about an NDE-like experience I had during the birth of my oldest son. Father Michael wrote back to me :

That is an absolutely beautiful story. I can only imagine the joy of being in such perfect peace and bliss. I long for that. For me these are simple affirmations of the certainty of heaven and the goodness of God. To meet three people of such significance in your life, a grandmother, a nun, and a sister whom you didn’t ever know. Whow!!

You have been blessed beyond measure. That is why my hope is that your son will come back ‘home’. I think our only joy is when we are peaceful in the Lord. Then everything else is manageable.

Do come to the sacristy. Tomorrow, I will be there but only for a few minutes. I am having b’fast with one of the elderly ladies.

Father Michael

Upon receiving Father’s note, I was immediately struck by his words “I long for that”. Throughout his ‘malady’, and even before, when his sickness seemed just like stomach trouble, I often thought about what Father Michael really wanted. I often felt-and dreaded- that Father Michael was sooooo good, (though not perfect!) that the Lord would surely give him what he longed for.

For me, this awareness of Father Michael’s yearning, gave the suffering, forbearance, courage and faith of his cancer journey such meaning. Praying for him, I struggled often in trying to balance my selfish desire for his ‘complete healing’ with the knowledge that Heaven was what he truly wanted and so deserved. So often in these past months I have remembered Father Michael’s ”I long for that”. And now it is his…