Journey’s Beginning

HeadstoneI vis­it­ed Father Michael’s grave again on Sun­day. I made a small pot of zin­nias- see­ing as there is a lot of sun there-they should be ok. Hope the rain keeps com­ing reg­u­lar­ly. I  placed the pot on the head­stone per ceme­tery pol­i­cy. It seems the peachy rose bush is gone, but anoth­er large one has been added at the foot of the grave. There are at least four mini ros­es plant­ed across the mid­dle. And sur­prise!  The lit­tle rock on the head­stone has been super-glued there!! No com­ment.

It was a somber vis­it for me. I think there is some­thing defin­i­tive and very final about see­ing that head­stone-sum­ming up a person’s time on this earth. Defin­i­tive and yet so inad­e­quate, true for every­one, yet most mea­ger for some , espe­cial­ly a man like Father Michael. But I know he would say “I’m just a sim­ple priest”.

Pray­ing at the ceme­tery got me rem­i­nisc­ing about ear­ly Decem­ber in 2012. Father Michael was get­ting ready for provin­cial meet­ings. They would be held in Albu­querque. Father Michael was talk­ing a lot about his upcom­ing meet­ing and a ‘regift­ing par­ty’ for staff that the fathers were going to throw at St Pius . I remem­bered I’d received a gift of  two Tiffany crys­tal glass­es , which I had nev­er used-for two years! They were still in the box; I offered them to Father Michael. He was so hap­py; said he knew just the lady he want­ed to sur­prise with them.

So I brought the glass­es to church one week­day. After he said Mass,Father Michael came out to the park­ing lot to accept them. He was so amazed that they were all wrapped and still in the blue Tiffany box with its white rib­bon. I’d also brought some fan­cy tea for him. He was very pleased and thanked me over and over. Then I asked when he’d be return­ing from Albu­querque. He turned very somber and said “I don’t want to go . I real­ly don’t want to go”.

This was so unusu­al -the way Father said this and the way he looked. I imme­di­ate­ly had this chill­ing thought ( in Span­ish ! ): “Cór­do­ba. Lejana y sola.….la muerte me está miran­do …”. It’s from García-Lorca’s “Song of the Rid­er”. A lit­tle shak­en, I asked Father Michael why he was think­ing this way. He said he didn’t know why, but just had this dread of going. I told him I would pray more than usu­al that all would be well. I was scared for him , because I knew that Father Michael was intu­itive about so much, so often. And I’d just had those fright­en­ing words come to me also. So we said good­bye and Father Michael left for Albu­querque the next day.

Father Michael received his can­cer diag­no­sis in Albu­querque. The doc­tors revealed the colon can­cer on the Feast of the Immac­u­late Conception.A few days lat­er, on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, they told him of the liv­er can­cer. On the Feast of the Annunciation,2014, Father Michael received the news that doc­tors could do no more for him. He’d always told me “Our Lady has been with me from the begin­ning with this ‘mal­a­dy’.” And she stayed with him till the end.

Father M missed the ‘regift­ing’. He was still in the hos­pi­tal.  Lat­er he had no mem­o­ry of where he’d got­ten the Tiffany glass­es. He end­ed up giv­ing them to a dif­fer­ent lady. I men­tioned them once in con­ver­sa­tion and he was so sur­prised I knew about them and even more sur­prised that I’d been their donor! Those were trau­mat­ic days for him in Albu­querque.

Our feel­ings of dread turned out to be on the mark. I thought of them in All Saints Ceme­tery that morn­ing in the light of Father Michael’s  trav­el­ing the long road home.  What a dig­ni­fied and holy trav­el­er! He jour­neyed with suf­fer­ing, with hope and ulti­mate­ly-sur­ren­der.

Here is a trans­la­tion of Lorca’s poem:

SONG OF THE RIDER

Cór­do­ba.

Far away and alone

Black pony, full moon

and olives in my sad­dle­bag.

Although I know the roads

I’ll nev­er reach Cór­do­ba.

Through the plain, through the wind,

black pony ‚red moon.

Death is look­ing at me

from the tow­ers of Cór­do­ba.

Ay! How long the road!

Ay! My valiant pony!

Ay! That death should await me

Before I reach Cór­do­ba.

Cór­do­ba.

Far away and alone.