A Song for New Year’s Eve ~ Poem by William Cullen Bryant

A Song For New Year’s Eve

Stay yet, my friends, a moment stay—      
Stay till the good old year,
So long companion of our way,      
Shakes hands, and leaves us here.           
Oh stay, oh stay, One little hour, and then away.The year, whose hopes were high and strong,      
Has now no hopes to wake; Yet one hour more of jest and song      For his familiar sake.           
Oh stay, oh stay, One mirthful hour, and then away.
The kindly year, his liberal hands      
Have lavished all his store. And shall we turn from where he stands,      Because he gives no more?           
Oh stay, oh stay,
One grateful hour, and then away.

William Cullen Bryant

Living a Meaning-filled life – Today’s Quote

  “I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see.” – John Burroughs

“The Wise” Poem by Buddha

The following is an excerpt from the Poem “The Wise” by Buddha

The Wise

If you see a wise person who shows you your faults,
who shows what is to be avoided,
follow that wise person
as you would one who reveals hidden treasures;
you will be better not worse for following that one.
Let one admonish; let one teach; let one forbid the wrong;
and one will be loved by the good and hated by the bad.

Do not have wrong-doers for friends;
do not have despicable people for friends;
have virtuous people for friends;
have for friends the best people.

Today’s Quote on Choices

Be careful the environment you choose for it will shape you; be careful the friends you choose for you will become like them.

W. Clement Stone

Chapter 46 ~ The Search Ends – Joe Meets His Dad

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.”

AFTERWARD

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.

Chapter 45 ~ Miracles Happen

Chapter 45 ~ Miracles Happen  

Father Oscar asked Joe, Jody, and Sam to come with him to room off of the lounge area. They walked into a conference room. There were three black leather soft, living room type chairs, a similarly covered sofa, and a long coffee table in the center of the room. A Bible and a book on coping with loss sat askew on the table. Father Oscar pointed to the sofa and an adjoining chair. Sam quickly stepped toward the chair. Joe gave him a look and shook his head. Joe and Jody sat on the sofa.

Father Oscar said, “We use this room to talk with family members. It’s hard watching someone you love die. My mom and dad are still alive. My younger sister drowned ten years ago. We were close. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it. I can’t count the number of men and women I’ve seen die here. I see suffering on the face of the dying. I see suffering on the face of family who feel powerless to change events. Every day I’m asked why and I don’t have an answer. The men and women who work here and volunteer to be here bring a deep sense of compassion to the dying and living. The work is so intense we schedule communal prayer sessions three times a week to support each other and pray for strength. It’s the only way we regain our strength to push on.”

Jody slid a bit closer to Joe and held his hand. Her eyes filled with tears as Father Oscar’s words triggered a memory. Father Oscar said, “You okay, Jody?”

“I’m okay, Father. I remember going to see my grandma in a hospice. She really raised me. It was hard. You’re right, you don’t get over it.”

Joe squeezed Jody’s hand. He said, “What about Ritchie? What’s his story?”

Father Oscar held Joe’s eyes for a moment, then spoke, “I met Joe a little over four years ago. It was right before I got my assignment to Sister Jean’s. It was early in the morning. I don’t remember the exact time, three or four. Brother George and I were working with the homeless in a park two blocks away from St. Rose’s Hospital. My iPhone vibrated. I answered it. Sister Joyce asked me to come to St. Rose’s Hospital to give the last rites to a man who was expected to die within the hour.  I left Brother George and ran the two blocks to the hospital. When I entered the ER room, they hurried me into a room where I saw a broken, battered body. The man’s eyes were closed and swollen, his nose literally pointing down his cheek. His lower jaw hung agape off to one side. Three doctors were working on his legs and arms. They all were broken. A doctor looked at me and said, “His name is Joe Ritchie. It was in his wallet. I made a guess he’s Catholic. We’re trying to save him. It will be a long shot if he survives. I’d put it at one hundred to one against him.”

“What did you do?” asked Joe.

“What I’m supposed to do. I walked behind the doctors and began praying over Joe. I didn’t have the oils we usually use, but I knew the prayers the church uses in administering the last rights by heart. Are you all Catholic?”

Joe nodded. Jody nodded. Sam shook his head.

“The last rites are a sacrament given to people in danger of dying where we pray for their soul. When I saw Joe, I was sure he wouldn’t be alive when the sun rose. After I administered the last rights, I left and returned to the park where Brother George was playing a guitar and had four homeless men singing with him. I wish you could meet him. He fits in wherever he is. I’ve never met anyone quite like him. He is the holiest person I’ve ever known. You’d never know it. He doesn’t wear it on his sleeve. There’s something about him that makes you know you’re in the presence of a special person. Brother George and I drove back to the Franciscan house. I told him the story. He looked at me and said, “He’s going to live.” That’s all he said. I didn’t question him. There are five of us Franciscans and two lay men who live at the house. We’ve learned not to question Brother George. Every once in a while he’ll tell us something that doesn’t make sense until it makes sense. You know what I mean?”

Sam shook his head, “I do, Father. Harry Daniels had the same gift.”

Joe gave Sam a look. Father Oscar said, “I believe you, Sam. The Spirit touches people in ways it’s hard for most of us to understand. Why someone gets the gift and others don’t is a mystery.”

Sam smiled and nodded.

Father Oscar continued, “The next afternoon, I went to St. Rose’s Hospital. I expected to hear that Joe died regardless of Brother George’s comment. I asked about Joe at the receptionist desk and was told he was in intensive care and critical not expected to survive. I went to intensive care and spoke with the nurses and the hospitalist, they all shook their heads. A week later he remained in a coma, but began to show slight signs of improvement. They moved him to the neurology unit. I started visiting him each day around three. I read to him. I told him stories. I have no idea if he heard me. I stayed a half hour then when back to my work.”

“How long was Joe in a coma?” asked Jody.

“Joe looked like a sci fi movie. Tubes were in his nose, mouth, and arms. His legs and arms were in traction. Doctor’s still needed to operate on his jaw and nose. They couldn’t because of his condition. They reset his nose the best they could. The swelling in his eyes was gone and the deep black and blue was turning yellow. He’d scare most anyone.”

“When did Joe wake up?” asked Sam.

“I know the exact day. It six weeks later on October 4th.”

“What made that day so special that you remember it?” asked Joe.

“There were two things, Joe. One, October 4th is the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi, the founder of my order. The other thing was Brother George. We have a small chapel in our house. That’s where you will usually find Brother George if he is not out working with the homeless or drug dependent people or lost kids. I came into the chapel to pray. I sat down in the rear row. Brother George was in the front row. There were only three rows. He was kneeling in deep prayer. I sat on a chair and began to pray. Maybe it was five minutes later, maybe longer. I don’t recall. I remember Brother George saying without turning around, “Oscar, go to St. Rose’s now. Joe is going to wake up.” That’s all he said. I got up and went directly St.Rose’s hospital. I went to Joe’s room. He looked comatose to me. I held his hand and said, “Hi Joe, it’s Father Oscar. For the first time, he squeezed my hand. I started to cry. Not out loud, but I couldn’t stop the tears from running down my face. After a moment, I prayed the 23rd psalm with him. He squeezed my hand again when I finished. He wouldn’t let go of me. I stood there. Then he opened his eyes and tried to speak. He couldn’t with all the tubes in him. I smiled and told him, everything was going to be okay. He was going to live.”

“And then?” asked Joe.

“Miracles happen, Joe. Miracles happen,” said Father Oscar.

 

Tomorrow – The conclusion of Searching for Dad

Chapter 43 ~ Payback

Chapter 43 ~ Payback

Jody ran her hands through her hair and said, “I must look a mess.”

“You look fine. You really look fine,” said Joe. 

Sam smiled.

“I spoke with Father Oscar. He’s a Franciscan. He was the priest who answered my uncle Vinnie’s message. You’ll meet him this morning. I already set a meeting for us at eleven. He wants to meet you, Joe.”

“He didn’t give you any idea what he wants to talk about?” asked Joe. 

Jody shook her head, “No, he said he wanted to meet Joe’s son. That’s all he said.”

“Biological son, that’s all I am. I’m not his son,” said Joe.

Jody paused a moment, “Let it go just a tad, Joe. You’ll feel better.”

Joe shot a glance at Sam. If Sam noticed it, he didn’t return the glance.

“Well, what do you know?” pushed Joe letting Jody’s comments go.

“This is what I learned from Father Oscar. He told me there was more to the story. Before he said anything else he wanted to meet you. When Joe Ritchie left Monica and another child, he fancied himself as a super pimp. He used his good looks and charm to hustle girls, he specialized in runaway girls. He’d wait down by the bus station or find some girls trying to work solo in Old Town. He built up a stable of five girls. They moved into his four bedroom in Henderson. He worked the casinos along the 515 outside of Vegas. You know, the casinos truckers and locals might hit. Almost every girl he had was already drug dependent. All he had to do was to keep the juice flowing and the girls did whatever he asked.”

“Didn’t he have problems with competition?” asked Sam.

“Not at first, Sam. Ritchie was rolling in the dough. He started driving a Lexus. He hired some muscle for protection and to help him keep an eye on the girls. Eight months after he went all in, he decided to expand into Vegas. Prostitution is against the law in Vegas, but it happens and it happens all the time. Ritchie knew this and he planted his girls inside the casinos. His girls could pick out a John the way a bee picks out a flower. Ritchie dropped the girls off in front of the casino with some playing money to help their cover. He taught them to stay away from the bars, they’re a red flag. His girls spotted a guy alone, usually over forty, playing the slots alone. They’d play next to the guy and start chatting. His business grew. Then came the good and bad news for Ritchie. He was raking in the dough. Casino security seldom caught his girls. That was the good news.”

“What was the bad news?” asked Joe.

“Prostitution in Vegas is a competitive business. If you want to make money, it’s all about location, location, location,” said Jody. “In the prostitution business, it doesn’t matter where it is, Vegas, Columbus, Cleveland, New York City, pimps don’t like competitors chiseling away at their turf. Ritchie had no street smarts. He thought hiring some muscle to protect him was all he needed. He found out he needed a lot more. His muscle was hired away by his competitor.”

“A bidding war for muscle?” asked Sam.

“Not exactly, Sam. Ritchie’s muscle was given a choice, work for me or end up as coyote bait in the desert. Ritchie either thought he was smarter than everybody else, which is my guess. Or, he thought they’d never dare go for the rough stuff. One night, Ritchie was getting into his Lexus in Henderson when three guys grabbed him. They turned him around and pushed his back against his Lexus. One of the men in a dark silk tailor made suit, and slicked back black hair speaking with a decidedly Latin American accent told him he was an emissary to advise him to cease and desist. They did not mean to do him any harm, but if Ritchie took his business back to Henderson it would be viewed as good faith. The three men left. Ritchie hired more muscle and changed strip casinos. Both moves backfired. The muscle left without so much as a goodbye a week later. The same guy ran prostitution from Tropicana up to Flamingo, Even if Ritchie went beyond that territory he’d have encountered the same problem. The zones were already divided. Ritchie hoped to make it big and take his girls to LA.”

Joe felt like he was listening to Jody read him a novel about the mob in Vegas. He said, “Is this all real, Jody? I can see Ritchie pimping. But getting caught up with heavy players? He’s a low life.”

“I double-checked Father Oscar’s story with a couple of sources I have in the police department. I didn’t doubt Father Oscar, it was the journalism part of me that always does a double check. Everything is as Father Oscar told me. In fact, I think Father Oscar knows a lot more than the police.”

“Go on,” said Sam eager to find out what happened.

Jody shot Sam a quick smile, “A week after he kicked up his business, Ritchie was set up with a traffic accident at three in the morning. They followed Ritchie and new his habits. One of his habits was to take a side road between Tropicana and Flamingo. The night it happened, one car pulled in front of Ritchie and another behind. The car behind starting tailgating him. Ritchie sped up. The car in front jammed his brakes. Ritchie smashed into the car. The car behind him came to a stop close enough to pin Ritchie in. He jumped out screaming at the driver in the front car to find three guys with guns trained on him. They put a cloth bag over his head and tossed him the rear vehicle. The car that was hit was stolen. The police have no idea who was driving. They drove Ritchie to a mostly vacant strip mall. They yanked him out of the car, took and beat the living hell out of him. They came close to killing him. They broke each of his limbs. They fractured his jaw and broke his nose. He had a very serious concussion. Some time after it happened, a security car was driving through the lot, no one knows how much later, but it was still dark. Ritchie was rushed to Saint Rose’s Hospital. That’s where he eventually met Father Oscar. He was in a coma for seven weeks.”

“What shape is he in? Did he recover?”

“He recovered. It took eighteen months of intense therapy, but he recovered,” said Jody.

“Payback,” said Sam.

“Did it ever,” said Jody.

“What happened next,” asked Joe.

“Father Oscar will take it from here,” said Jody.