Saturday, March 10, 2007


On a lighter note for the end of the week, here is the second day in January 2006 of the writing experiment; a day in the life of . . .

I sat and stared at the offending car through my windshield. There are many good and constructive ways to handle the situation, and I chose none of them. I was lazy. I was careless. And it was my fault, though at the moment you couldn’t have told me that.

There were acres of empty parking spaces at Saint Clare that day, just a few taken up here and there with teachers in the day school or the occasional parishioner wanting to stop in at the chapel and pray. So with so many viable options open, why then did the person in the white car decide that the best place to park was right in front of my garage door?

The real problem began when I decided to try to shave past the car into the tiny garage door. It would be close, but it seemed possible. So inching around the other car I stuck the nose of my old, but still good-looking car into its garage. It seemed to be going well until a loud scrapping noise was heard. The maneuvering was not as clever as originally thought and the car had scraped up against the side of the opening. Of course the parking lot, which had been a desolate wasteland a nanosecond before, was now full of spectators who heard and then saw what happened.

BLAP! I laid on the horn, a very mature and Christian thing to do, and a lady came running out of the rectory. “Oh that’s me! Sorry! Just give me a second!” and then she drove her car a short distance to one of the hundreds of parking spaces and came back to take care of her business in the house.

In the meantime, my temperament became foul and festering. That had to change. The sun was out and it was warm enough to be outside with only a windbreaker on (in January in northeast Ohio!) A walk might help. A man had called and asked that his mother be visited in a nearby nursing home about a quarter of a mile away and so the destination was set.

This was the second time I’d gone to visit “Nancy”. The first time she had disappeared and nobody could find her. Apparently she was recouping at the nursing home and not in much need of one. The nurses searched and searched and so I gave up and left my card on her nightstand. So it was with some relief that I found her in her room on this visit. She was dressed to the nines and looked as though she had lain down on her bed just to take an afternoon nap.

I knocked on the door. No response. I knocked harder. Again no response. “Nancy?” Nothing. “Nancy!” The only response was a snore. I put my hand on her shoulder already growing more nervous about intruding this far. I wouldn’t want someone, even if he be a priest, to come barging into my room while I was sleeping and shaking me awake simply because he wanted to visit NOW. But even a gentle shake and last calling of her name failed to rouse her.

Long ago I remember talking to Mrs. Momchilov who went into the nursing home. When we visited her, Mom told her that she was in a deep sleep last time we were there so we didn’t wake her. She thanked us and explained how much of a blessing it was to sleep. With this in mind, I decided to let a sleeping Nancy lie.

A second card was taken out of my wallet and a note scribbled to her saying that she was in my prayers. I put the note next to the previous card on the nightstand, gave her a blessing, and started the trek home.

On the way back I passed a nice strip mall (if such an adjective can be used for a strip mall,) I decided to take a walk through it. Passing restaurants, offices, and boutiques, I came at last to an artists supply shop and felt an overpowering urge to go in.

It seems in my family, well at least Mom’s side of the family, stress is always handled by some sort of artistic enterprise (seconded only by housework. Anger meant a clean house and the shiniest Revereware in the state.) It can take many forms. For example, Mom might drag out a suitcase of old Slovenian music and pound out tunes on the piano for an hour or so. It could take on a more permanent manifestation. My cousin who has been working on a beautiful old house for years, carefully restoring and preserving the abundant wood work with which it was graced, one day, while in a stressed state, decided to paint the French doors a bright aqua. When asked why she did it, she shrugged her shoulders and said, “It was just something that I had to do.” So now she has a beautifully restored house with magnificent woodwork and aqua French doors.

Not to belabor it, but the projects could also be monumental. My one sister who lives in the woods in upstate New York builds rock walls. Yes, rock walls. And not tiny, little rocks either, but miniature boulders that are far heavier than the weights I use at the gym. A visit to her house may find a twenty-yard rock wall gracing the entrance to her garden, two feet high and built well enough to walk on, or a new wall of rock and mortar in her house. She just smiles when asked about it and says, “I just thought it would look nice. Besides, the house was clean.”

In a trance, I went to the pastels and purchased a box of 60 colors or so and headed back to the parish and into the old choir loft. Truth be told, it is not a choir loft though it was intended to be. The parish never raised the money to buy the pipe organ for which it was built and so it sits empty except for use by the occasional bride or overflow seating at Christmas and Easter. It has thus become my hideout, my sanctuary by the sanctuary, a place to pray, read, and now: do art.

Off one end of the balcony is a door that leads into the bell tower. It is largely empty for it was to hold the blowers and other mechanisms for the never realized pipe organ. The room is kept clean, but forty some years of vacancy have left their grimy marks. The walls are tired and stained, and little plaster has fallen from the ceiling. With a little imagination, this room could transport you to an ancient church in Europe that has been standing for a thousand years. On one wall, I took my pastels out and started drawing a mural of Saint Clare, not a bright and bold mural, but one that looks as though it was painted five-hundred years ago and was terribly faded and in danger of disappearing all together. One day, someone will happen upon it wonder what this room must have been used for and why did they let such a mural practically disappear. As each stroke was made, devils fell off of my back and satisfaction filled me. Stepping out of the tower room, the car that was parked in front of the garage became just a car parked in front of the garage, the scratch on my car became just a scratch on the car, the pointless visit to the nursing home became a nice walk, and all was right with the world.


Rob said...

Thank you, father. These kinds of visits to the ill, which some may imagine as bothersome, mean more than you can imagine. My mother began her journey away from the Church, taking all us kids with her, when two priests refused to go see my father in the hospital. He had tried to commit suicide. I didn't go back to mass until college, far too late to avoid some of the indoctrination I had already recieved at the hands of the world.

Shirley said...

I can sure relate to how the world seems a better place after being immersed in drawing or painting; must be because such things are a gift from God, and by using them, we draw closer to Him and all the vexatious crosses of the day are put in perspective. I am fortunate enough to also have this gift when I spend time with my horses.

paramedicgirl said...

Very beautiful story, Father. It's wonderful how the worries of the world are washed away with the small moments that often go unnoticed.

Adoro te Devote said...

Obviously, it's not just artwork that helps you relieve stress; it's writing, too!

I can relate.

Wonderful story, and I love your descriptions!

Fr. V said...

Thanks guys. What a boost. Remembering you at mass today.

uncle jim said...

I'm giving a short talk on Gal 5:6-7 on Tues eve ... I think I see you in there somewhere as a hope filled 'everyman'

Anonymous said...

:-) Well, that explains the sudden desire this year just a few days ago, for the watercolors, palette and paper. Is it a happy thing, born of a not-happy thing, i.e., Where you do not find beauty, put beauty there, and there you will find it.. ? (Unfortunately, my down times will never result in housework!)

Loved the bell tower and St. Clare drawing.. :-) And nursing homes are cathedrals when a priest walks the halls; I'm always so grateful for that presence, along with the old ones.