He is frail now, vulnerable, and his gaunt, harrowed face has a softer expression. We have been at odds for almost twenty years, so I wasn't expecting anything. My intention was to be civil, greet him, shake hands and move on but to our surprise he hung around us, came back to our table after the meal and we talked, chatted in a very light and friendly manner. He even asked after my life in Hastings.
Someone later reminded me about what he did all those years ago, the reason for the breakdown in our relationship and I haven't forgotten but the expression in his face made me lay all that down.
There was a moment when he came up behind me as I was sitting at table and he placed his hands on my shoulders, something my nephews would do. As I do, I reached back without looking, to touch the hands touching me and I was so surprised, surprised and moved. As I was leaving we hugged. He said, "look after yourself " and I said "you look after yourself." And I left, knowing that we can meet again without stress or fear. It is something I thought would only happen when we were both dead. A class of a miracle.
It's May 9th. Maura would be 66 today. I woke with a heavy heart, not wanting to face the day, wishing I didn't have to go through the inevitable unpleasant encounters, the fractured, broken realities of our extended family, the exclusion, the silences, things of the past that inflicted grevous wounds, some of which are still raw, the stress of managing all these situations, praying that hurt will not be heaped upon hurt.
I said Mass. Lit a candle for Maura. Prayed for a miracle. Jesus said in today's Gospel, "why are these doubts rising in your hearts?" I chose to trust and went to visit two of our elder neighbours who brought me to broader horizons, brought me to a place of tranquility.
I dressed for the wedding, learning again how to fix a tie which looks and feels odd. We went to Maura's grave. Prayed quietly. I left a rose from my garden, a rose planted by our late mother.
There is some disappointment in me that this is a civil rather than a church wedding so I'm leaving my priestly appearance aside. He was so religious as a boy but, like most of the next generation, seems to have lost those sacred Christian instincts. It's the way of things now and it seems to be what people want - a quick, non religious ceremony that to me lacks soul. God got no mention throughout the whole affair except in one or two private conversations. It's interesting, though, that the secular ceremony has adopted its form from the Christian liturgy. It began shortly after 3.00 - the hour of Mercy which I acknowledged in my heart, praying for the couple who are very happy.
And I was praying too for the newborn girl who is on the verge of death, being baptized today, praying for her and her parents. Praying for a miracle. I'm doing the novena to Our Lady of Fatima for her, asking that as my friend Helen died on Tuesday, this child might live. That death might give way to this little life. It seems impossible, improbable but you never know. Lord I believe, help my unbelief. Sadly, it was not to be.
My sister and I were the only aunt and uncle not given places at table with the other aunts and uncles but we were with their adult childern. Really beautiful and delightful people to be with. Warm, open faces and hearts that suffer family fractures. There is no place where there isn't brokeness but it can be held and carried with grace. It doesn't have to be ugly, at least not all of the time.
The speeches were short. The groom reserved his words for his departed mother and his friend who died suddenly ten months ago at forty six years, same age as Maura. Across the room I saw the friend's parents cry.
We had warm, concerned and happy conversations with the other aunts and uncles whom we haven't met for years. Memories going back more than forty years. 1975. Queen. Bohemian Rhapsody. Parents passed on. And we had moments of present laughter, the unrestrained laughter that shakes your belly.
It was a day well spent. I was there because I love my nephew and the memory of his mother. Unmiraculous in some aspects but clearly miraculous in others, and this holds out the hope that the other miracles we seek will come in God's time. We have only to wait, pray and be ready to participate in the moment of grace when it arrives.
May 10th and I'm on my way to the airport and beyond to Hastings, having just visited Noel in Blackrock Hospice. A fellow Pallottine who has been a priest for forty one years, we were students together in Thurles for a few years in the '70's
Two of his brothers and a niece were with him and Mike Irwin left shortly after I arrived. Noel slept peacefully so the rest of us chatted until he stirred, woke and looked at us without speaking. I knelt beside his bed, we held hands, I placed my right hand on his head and we prayed. My tears came to me as a surprise, came from deep inside me. You never know what or who is going to make you cry. His brothers and niece cried and I left tthe room a while because my crying was going to get out of control. That wouldn't have been fair to Noel.
When I composed myself I went back to say thanks to Noel, told him I love him, kissed his cheek and said goodbye in Swahili. Kwaheri, Mungu akubariki, God bless you. Asante, thank you, he replied with a little smile. Kwaheri. We will not get the chance to say these things to each other again.