“This above all,—To thine own self be true;
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Then canst not then be false to any man.
Excerpt from Helen Keller’s Book, The Story of My Life
The most important day I remember in all my life is the one on which my teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan, came to me. I am filled with wonder when I consider the immeasurable contrasts between the two lives which it connects. It was the third of March, 1887, three months before I was seven years old.
On the afternoon of that eventful day, I stood on the porch, dumb, expectant. I guessed vaguely from my mother’s signs and from the hurrying to and fro in the house that something unusual was about to happen, so I went to the door and waited on the steps. The afternoon sun penetrated the mass of honeysuckle that covered the porch, and fell on my upturned face. My fingers lingered almost unconsciously on the familiar leaves and blossoms which had just come forth to greet the sweet southern spring. I did not know what the future held of marvel or surprise for me. Anger and bitterness had preyed upon me continually for weeks and a deep languor had succeeded this passionate struggle.
Have you ever been at sea in a dense fog, when it seemed as if a tangible white darkness shut you in, and the great ship, tense and anxious, groped her way toward the shore with plummet and sounding-line, and you waited with beating heart for something to happen? I was like that ship before my education began, only I was without compass or sounding-line, and had no way of knowing how near the harbour was. “Light! give me light!” was the wordless cry of my soul, and the light of love shone on me in that very hour.
IN THE SAME WAY ANNE SULLIVAN CAME INTO HELEN KELLER’S LIFE AT THE RIGHT MOMENT, WHO CAME INTO YOUR LIFE AT THE RIGHT MOMENT AND MADE A DIFFERENCE FOR YOU?
Chapter 46 ~ The Search Ends – Joe Meets His Dad
“Is this everything?” asked Joe.
“Why the rush, Joe? Jody said you quit your job to search for your father. I’m not being critical, please don’t take offense. I assume you want to meet Joe. If that is the case, there is a lot of context about Joe you need to know. I’m not trying to influence how you feel about Joe. How you feel and act toward Joe is something you have to decide. No one can make these decisions for you,” replied Father Oscar.
Jody put her hand on Joe’s back and gently rubbed it. She said, “It’s been a tough journey for Joe, Father. Do you know all of Joe Ritchie’s history?”
Father Oscar smiled, “I’m not sure anyone knows all of their personal history. There’s the history we create and we interpret the history we create through a personal prism. Others who are touched by our history perceive our actions through their prism, which is quite different than the one we use. More importantly, why we do what we do is often a mystery. Psychologists and others try to explain it in a way to rip away the mystery. They sound convincing, it is my opinion anything they say is speculation at best.”
“What about the women and men he mistreated and hurt? I can give you a partial list. I sure he filled pages,” said Joe with a biting edge to his words.
Father Oscar viewed an emotional movie cross Joe’s face and ripple down his arms into balled fists. After a moment, Father Oscar said, “Do you want to hear more of the story, Joe?”
Joe took a deep breath, “Okay. Yes. It’s just …”
Father Oscar held up a hand, “No need to explain, Joe. I get angry when I see how society has forgotten about the homeless. I get angry when I see young girls and boys pulled into sex trafficking. I get angry when I hold a young man dying from a heroin overdose. I can understand your anger when you met people Joe hurt. I’m not aware of anything prior to the time I met him in the ER. After Joe came out of the coma he went into a great depression. He didn’t want to live. If his arms weren’t in casts, he may have committed suicide. He was on suicide watch for two weeks. He had to go through months of counseling and therapy. Slowly, very slowly, he chose to live and he chose to walk again. He started in a wheel chair, moved to crutches, and eventually began taking steps without assistance. He lived in our house during this time.
“Is he still living in your house?” asked Joe.
“Not any longer. He lived with us for more than three years. After Joe learned to walk and become independent, he asked us if he could stay with us and help us in our work. He washed floors. He did dishes. He did whatever he was asked to do and he never complained. He was filled with an inner happiness. When Brother George and I went out at night, he was right by our side.”
“Did he have some kind of conversion?” asked Jody.
“To be honest with you, I’m not aware of any religious conversion. I don’t know anything about Joe’s past. I don’t want to know about his past. I didn’t dig into it. I knew his name was Joe Ritchie from what was in his wallet and the papers that were in the glove compartment of his car. As far as I’m concerned, my history with Joe began the day I was called to give him the last rites.”
“Didn’t he ever talk about singing and his group, Joe and the Flamingos?” asked Joe.
“This is new to me. I know he liked to play the guitar. I thought he was pretty good. He played guitar at our masses. He has a very good voice, but then again I’m not a talent scout.”
“He had a good reason to hide his past from you,” said Joe.
“Yes, he did,” said Father Oscar. His beating was so severe, he had a traumatic brain injury. Doctors call it TBI. He gets glimpses now and then of his past, but much of his past is fuzzy. Counseling helped him grapple with it. The Joe Ritchie I know is a good man. He doesn’t ask for anything. He works tirelessly to help others. He laughs easily. If you didn’t know anything about his history, you’d wouldn’t think twice about wanting to be friends with him.”
A silence fell over the table. Jody held Joe’s hand. Sam pushed away from the table and returned with a cup of coffee. Sam was the first to speak, “I guess there’s hope for all of us.”
“It’s how I look at life, Sam. Even you and me,” said Father Oscar with a smile.
Sam chuckled. Then he looked at Joe, “Suck it up, Joe, and do the right thing. You know what you have to do. You want me to tell you the story of Kyle Watson who faced the same kind of decision you are trying to make? I hope you do better than Kyle Watson did. That’s all I’ll say.”
“Sam’s right, Joe,” said Jody. “Do the right thing.”
Joe took a deep breath, stretched out his fingers, and turned his hands over palms up. Joe stared at his palms trying to pull an answer out of them. He looked up at Father Oscar, “Where is he? I’d like to see him. He probably doesn’t even know he has a son. I’ll only say hello. That’s all.”
“Before we go. There’s one more thing you need to know,” said Father Oscar.
“What’s that?” asked Joe.
“Joe worked here at Sister’s Jeans Hospice. Sometimes he spent the whole night with someone who was dying who didn’t have any family to be with them.”
“Is he working today?” asked Joe.
“Not exactly. Joe has cancer. He’s dying. It’s a miracle you’re here. He can die any moment. He’s just down the hall. Before he became sick, he was a healthy specimen. He was about your height, weighed about one-ninety. Now he’s close to one-twenty. There’s not much left to him, physically that is.”
Joe stood. “Let’s go.”
Jody gave Joe another squeeze on his hand. Father Oscar led Joe past the receptionist desk and down the corridor to the right. Half way down the corridor, Father Oscar stopped in front of a partially opened door. He said in a soft voice, “Joe’s in here. I don’t know if he’s awake. He doesn’t like morphine, but he’s had to take it recently. The pain has become too much for him.”
Joe nodded. Father Oscar pushed the door gently open and walked in the room. Joe followed him. Father Oscar walked to the side of the bed. Joe stood at the foot of the bed and looked at his father covered with a thin white blanket over a white sheet. An IV in his arm hooked to morphine. Tubes from his nose connected to a feeding bottle hanging from a metal stand to his right. His eyes were closed. His face gaunt. What was left of his hair was thin and barely covered his scalp.
Father Oscar took hold of a frail, boney hand and said, “Joe? It’s Oscar. I’m here with a friend who wanted to say hello.”
Joe stared at the silent figure. He saw the boney hand make an effort to squeeze Father Oscar’s hand.
Father Oscar said, “Joe come over here and introduce yourself.” Then Father Oscar said, “Joe meet Joe.”
Joe took his Father’s hand. He felt a slight squeeze. Tears filled his eyes and flowed over the edges and began to streak down his cheeks. He said, “Hi Joe. I’m from Ohio and I happened to be passing through. Father Oscar told me there was someone I should meet. I’m pleased to meet you. I’ve heard many good things about you.”
Joe felt his father squeeze his hand and thought he saw a tiny smile on his face. His father released his grip. Joe looked at the monitor. It still showed a beating heart.
Father Oscar said, “Joe’s tired. We’ll let him rest.” Father Oscar put his forehand on Joe’s forehead traced a cross with his thumb, and said, “We love you, Joe. God loves you.”
Father Oscar and Joe left the room. Joe took one last look at his father before leaving the room. When they were in the hallway, he said, “Thank you Father Oscar. Thank you.”
Two days after Joe left Las Vegas. Father Oscar called him and told him Joe Ritchie died. Joe and Sam turned around returned to Las Vegas for the second time. Jody flew back from Columbus to join him at his father’s funeral and burial. After the funeral, Joe returned to Columbus, Ohio, and rejoined the TV station as their top sports announcer. Six months later Joe and Jody announced the engagement on television and were married in the spring by Father Oscar. On the way back to Columbus, Sam asked to be let off in Wichita. He took the maintenance job at Blessed Sacrament. Four months later he and Rosa married.
Love is the law of God. You live that you may learn to love. You love that you may learn to live. No other lesson is required of Man.
For The Record
by Adrienne Rich
The clouds and the stars didn’t wage this war
the brooks gave no information
if the mountain spewed stones of fire into the river
it was not taking sides
the raindrop faintly swaying under the leaf
had no political opinions
and if here or there a house
filled with backed-up raw sewage
or poisoned those who lived there
with slow fumes, over years
the houses were not at war
nor did the tinned-up buildings
intend to refuse shelter
to homeless old women and roaming children
they had no policy to keep them roaming
or dying, no, the cities were not the problem
the bridges were non-partisan
the freeways burned, but not with hatred
Even the miles of barbed-wire
stretched around crouching temporary huts
designed to keep the unwanted
at a safe distance, out of sight
even the boards that had to absorb
year upon year, so many human sounds
so many depths of vomit, tears
had not offered themselves for this
The trees didn’t volunteer to be cut into boards
nor the thorns for tearing flesh
Look around at all of it
and ask whose signature
is stamped on the orders, traced
in the corner of the building plans
Ask where the illiterate, big-bellied
women were, the drunks and crazies,
the ones you fear most of all: ask where you were.
Chapter 20 ~ Grace Was Speechless
Grace emptied her handbag searching for lipstick, lip gloss or anything to make herself look a bit more attractive. She found a tube of hand cream, a tampon, her cell phone, a package of gum, rosary beads, a prayer card, a wallet with her ATM and credit cards and photos of Mike, Matt, and her parents. She sighed, “I don’t even have a mirror.”
Grace’s thoughts were interrupted by Matt, “Mom, I don’t feel like going. I think I’ll stay in the cabin for a little while. You don’t mind, do you?”
Grace was working on her hair with her fingers, she had no comb and brush. I remembered Matt’s favorite socks and I forgot my brush. Forget about asking Jane, she said to herself.
She called to Matt, “That’s fine Matt. Did you bring your hair brush?”
Matt called back, “Why? Did you forget how short my hair is?”
Grace rolled her eyes. Matt’s blond hair couldn’t be more than a half inch high, if. She decided to go with her old reliable. She pulled her hair back into a ponytail. She pressed her loose-fitting white t-shirt against her flat stomach and tucked it loosely into her jeans. She looked in the mirror, not too bad, Brad will know I’m low-maintenance, natural, and approachable. For the first time, she felt comfortable and a surge of confidence flowed through her.
“Mom, you look great,” said Matt standing in the doorway.
Grace turned, “How long have you been watching me, Matthew?”
“I just got here. I wanted to tell you something,” said Matt.
Here we go, thought Grace. I wonder what objection Matt has now. She said, “What is it, Matt?”
“I’m okay with you dating Brad. He’s really a cool guy. When you guys come back, he’s going to work with me on my jump shot.”
Grace was speechless. She tried to think of something to say. She wanted to say thank you. She wanted to hug Matt. Instead, she blurted out, “You sure you don’t want to come along? You can talk sports with Brad.”
The second she said it, she said to herself, “Are you crazy?”
Matt smiled, “No, Mom. You and Brad need some time away from me. I’m all set. I’ll see you when you get back.”
Grace walked over to Matt, and hugged him and kissed him on the top of his head, then said, “Thank you, Matt.
Matt shrugged, and pulled away. “It’s not a big deal. There’s nothing for me to do at a coffee shop, anyway. Besides, the park has Wifi for the cabins.” Matt turned and went to his cot, he climbed on his cot, lied down, picked up his tablet, and turned his tablet on.
Grace had her handbag over her shoulder took a quick glance at Matt, then walked out of the cabin. Brad was standing up against the side of his pickup truck.
“Where’s Matt?” said Brad.
“He said he didn’t want to go. He’ll be okay. Jane and Larry are in the next cabin. He has his cell. He was looking at his tablet.”
Grace walked around the pickup to the passenger’s side. She stopped and looked at Brad who was staring at her cabin. “What’s wrong, Brad?” she asked.
“Nothing’s wrong. You sure Matt is going to lie on his cot all the while we’re gone?” said Brad.
“He must be exhausted. He went running and swimming and he wants to play basketball with you when we return.”
“I’ve only known Matt for a few hours, I don’t think he’ll stay on his cot, he’s all boy,” said Brad.
“He’ll be fine,” said Grace reaching for the door handle.
Brad turned and said, “Let me get the door for you.”
Grace nearly fell over. Even Mike never opened her door. What kind of man is Brad, she asked herself. Her heart started beating a bit faster.
Brad closed her door, Grace fastened her seatbelt, and Brad returned to the driver’s side. He got in, fastened his seatbelt and started the engine. He turned toward her, and said, “It’s only a ten minute ride. You have a nice natural look. It’s a good look. Thank you.”
Grace felt like crying, she was so happy.
Brad shifted from park into drive and pulled out.
Matt stood in the cabin doorway, not visible to either Brad or Grace. He watched the pickup drive past the registration and ranger’s office and head toward the park entrance. He turned, walked to his cot, opened his backpack, checked to see if he had two water bottles, an orange and the knife his dad gave him three years ago.
Chapter 7 ~ You Know He’s A Jerk, Mom. Don’t You?
It was seven p. m. and Grace and Matt were on their way home. Grace stayed much longer than she expected. Grace had driven nearly two of the four miles to their home and not a word was spoken between she and Matt. Every once in a while, Grace turned to look at Matt. Each time, Matt was staring out the window.
Grace came to a stop at a red light. She turned slightly toward Matt and said, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” said Matt. He kept staring out the window.
“Matthew, don’t give me nothing. I know when something is wrong, are you going to tell me?” said Grace.
Matt kept this body tilted toward the window, but turned his head toward Grace, “Mom, nothing is wrong, okay. I’m just quiet, that’s all.”
The light turned green, a driver blasted a horn behind them. Grace felt like making an obscene gesture, but Matt was in the car with her. Instead, she waved and drove off. Grace knew the problem. She wanted to hear it from Matt so they could talk about it. It was unlike him to clam up. She wasn’t sure how to handle it.
Grace said, “Want to go to Brenton’s for an ice cream? You love their waffle cones.”
“No thanks, Mom. I’m not hungry. I ate a lot at the barbecue,” said Matt, his face staring out the window.
Grace’s heart was somewhere in her stomach. She replayed the barbecue in her mind. She knew Matt did not like James the moment they met. As soon as he gave James the snarky remark about how he liked to be called Matt instead of Matthew, she knew. Matt was like Mike, once they made their minds up about someone, the door closed and the key was tossed away. There was no way of reopening the door.
Grace thought she didn’t like James at first. He came across as stuck up. But, then she warmed up to him. He listened to her. She laughed for the first time in the longest time. They clinked bottles a couple of times when they said the same thing at the same time. It was as if they were in each other’s head at the moment.
Jane came by a couple of times to see how it was going and she remembered Jane leaving and turning and winking, and Grace remembered that she gave Jane a wide smile. A sure signal that this meet up was better, much better than the previous ones Jane had put together. She didn’t pay attention to Matt. She saw him tossing a football with someone she didn’t know. He looked like he was enjoying himself.
Grace was pulling into the driveway, when Matt turned to her and said, “Are you going to go out with him?”
Grace didn’t speak for a moment, she pushed the garage door opener and watch the garage door slowly make its way up. She drove in, put the car in park, and turned off the engine.
“Well?” Said Matt.
“Well, what?” Asked Grace as if she didn’t know.
“Are you going to go out with him?”
“With who? I don’t know what you’re talking about?” Grace regretted saying what she said, the moment the words came out of her mouth.
“You know he’s a jerk, Mom, don’t you? He didn’t know who the starting quarterback is for the Cowboys. Everybody knows that one, even you.”
“That doesn’t make James a jerk. He’s different, that’s all,” said Grace defensively.
Matt rolled his eyes. Then he said, “You never answered me, are you going out with him.”
“He has a name, Matthew. His name is not him. It’s James,” said Grace.
“Whatever,” said Matt.
“I don’t want to argue, Matt. I don’t know if I’m going out with him. We didn’t make any plans. Yes, I gave him my number and he gave me his number. That’s all that happened.”
“I bet he doesn’t know a curve ball from a fast ball. Anyways, I’m tired. I’m going to bed early,” Matt got out of the car and headed into the house.
Grace sat in the car, her hands gripping the steering wheel as if she was hanging on for life. Matt had never gone to bed without saying goodnight. He had never gone to bed without kissing her goodnight. Oh God, she prayed, what am I going to do? Please help me. She laid her forehead on the top of the steering wheel and felt the tears filling her eyes and overflowing and flowing down her cheeks until they dripped off her chin, and landed on her jeans.