An Unexpected (and very pleasant) Surprise

It’s been a while, eh? Yup. Sure has.

This story is worthy (at least I think it is) of a return to the blog. So, well, here goes.

Here we are in early February, and, well, surprisingly I didn’t write anything January 30 — the 12th anniversary of my Dad’s passing. It’s been sort of a tradition here at I Got Nothin’ that I’d write my annual letter to him — usually complaining about how much I missed him and how his death has affected me and all that. And, for the record, I do miss him. And, well, yeah, it affected me. Maybe just a bit.

But, none of that this year.

No visiting the cemetery on his ‘anniversary’ either. First time in a while that I haven’t done that. I’ve been recently, though, so it’s not like I’ve abandoned that practice.

I made the choice to not write the letter. I made the choice to not go to the cemetery. One little Facebook status was all I did that day. And that’s a good thing. I promised myself that I wouldn’t force the anniversary of his death on you — and, more importantly, on me.

I remember him a lot. Did I need to have the specific day to ‘publicize’ him to my friends (or, even, myself)? Because, if I ever have to do that again, strangle me. I’m not saying I’ll never post another letter that I write to him. What I’m saying is that I was in a decided pattern of behavior around his death (as well as Tim’s). That’s a pattern that I wasn’t growing very fond of. It was the all-consuming pattern. Not so much a fan of those.

Besides, my going in the opposite direction, by not forcing the memory, by just letting things be as they are, well, I discovered that good things do happen.

Just like they did today. Honestly, this is one of the most touching moments that I’ve had about my Dad since his passing. It might not seem that way to you. Or, maybe it does. I don’t know. And, it’s one of those ‘it doesn’t really matter’ moments. It affected me. And for that I’m grateful.

Here’s the story…and I’m already apologizing to you for the length of this. It’s not a short story.

So Aidan is a second grader at Sacred Heart, the Catholic elementary school within our parish. Erin goes there, too. It’s a great place for them. And, after spending my entire elementary schooling in a Catholic school, I’m pretty happy they are in one now.

We are just wrapping up an annual celebration of Catholic Schools Week. It’s primary goal is awareness. But it also does some fun stuff for kids and families to get involved. One of those things is what made today special.

The local Catholic high school, St. Bernard’s, hosts an annual art show during Catholic Schools Week. Each year, they solicit art projects from area Catholic elementary schools and they are then displayed in  a true exhibit space within the school. It was very cool to see. And part of the reason for that is because Aidan had one of his projects selected for display.

Because the show is in the school, I had called ahead to check on whether or not it was possible to come by late in the afternoon. The art teacher called me back and said he would be there late, so no problem at all coming toward the end of the day.

A student led us down to the gallery room and, after a bit of searching, we found Aidan’s picture — a really cool snowman image. I’m not sure where he gets the talent from, but it certainly looked good to me. While we were in the room, the teacher walked in and welcomed us and asked if I was the one who had called earlier in the day. Nothing fancy in the conversation. At least not yet.

He was just telling us about the show, how he enjoys getting the elementary schools involved with the high school. That sort of thing. Then he told Aidan that he went to Aidan’s school as a kid, so that was neat. And that he still lives right across from Aidan’s school. So very slowly a connection was being made here — at least unbeknownst to me.

At one point in the conversation, the art teacher, who is clearly still passionate about what he does, stated that this was, in fact, his 40th year at the school Forty! And that’s where it clicked.

Not because this man has been doing this for 40 years (but, um, wow!), but because I wondered if he might possibly have known my Dad.

How would he have known him? Well, some of you probably don’t know that my Dad was, first and foremost, an educator. He taught elementary school and then moved into administration and, for a time, he served as assistant superintendent of schools in the Norwich diocese where St. Bernard’s is located. In fact, he was very involved with St. Bernard’s early on and had worked closely on a variety of projects there.

I wasn’t sure if I should bring that up, though. I mean, this guy has been teaching 40 years. Imagine the people he’s met over the years. And, well, Dad left that job in the mid 1980s. I didn’t want to ask and be told no. Nor did I want to ask and get a tepid response and think he was just being polite. So, I didn’t say anything.

As it was time to leave, the teacher said he’d walk us back to the front lobby of the school. I didn’t think anything of it, because it was quite a walk with some twists and turns. Besides, we were still chatting about a variety of things.

As we went down one hallway, there was a huge portrait of a former bishop in the diocese — a bishop that I had known because of my Dad. Ah, I said, I know him. I met him a long time ago when my father worked for the diocese.

And that’s when I could tell the teacher did know my Dad. “I thought so,” the teacher said. “And that’s why I wanted to walk you out. I recognized your name when we spoke on the phone and I wondered if maybe you were the same family.”

“That’s us,” I said.

The teacher told me that he remembered my Dad. And then he did the coolest thing. On our walk, he took us to the chapel within the school.

He went on to explain how two statues in the chapel were only there because of my Dad. That these statues had been in another school and somehow ended up at the administration office where he worked. And at one point, in discussing needs for the chapel, my Dad mentioned these two statues to the teacher and, well, that was that. So now, as you go in the chapel, the statues are still there.

Even though he said he had known my Dad, I wasn’t quite sure what to say or how to react — until I heard this story. He definitely remembered him. He definitely remembered this story. It wasn’t like he was just being polite.

He also knew my Dad had passed and made reference to that a couple of times. I thanked him for sharing the story, that it really meant a lot to me to hear something like that — particularly something so unexpected.

And then he said something that really got me — that really made this an emotional homerun for me.

“Because of those statues,” he said, “your Dad has left a lasting impression that is with us every day.”

He sure has.

For me, this was huge. It helped me understand that, yeah, you don’t have to force memories. They will come. And it’s not just me that has them. Other people remember my Dad, too. I lose sight of that sometimes. Make that a lot of times.

But, seriously. I didn’t sign up for this today.

No, we were just going to an art show.

We were just going to find a picture of a snowman.

Turns out we found a whole lot more.

And I’m really glad we did.

 

 


One Comment on “An Unexpected (and very pleasant) Surprise”

  1. Pam says:

    Wonderful story.


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