My beautiful cousin Marian died last month. It will be my regret that I spent so much of my life not knowing her, not visiting her, not celebrating life’s little moments and achievements with her. While she certainly did not lack family or friends, I know my life would have been richer having her in it longer than the few years we did spend together. It was only distance and my taking so many things for granted that stopped me from connecting with her sooner.
Marian assured me of the existence of the communion of saints. It’s something I never understood, never took seriously until I had one wonderful phone call with her where I explained some extraordinary things that had happened to me after laying flowers on a grave in my hometown cemetery. I have a much fuller appreciation for this sacred bond we all have, one to the other, and I owe that understanding to Marian.
Just this past week, I was in the house I recently inherited after my father died. Every single time I walked in there, I said, “This carpet has to come up – it has to be the first thing I do, no matter what.” I had planned some small renovations, certainly, and I planned to update the backyard to make it more summer friendly, but in fact, I could have just shampooed the wall-to-wall carpet and been done with it.
I hired a contractor, bought hard wood oak flooring, made appointments for the carpet to come up and the floors to be laid down. It was probably within the first few minutes of pulling up the old baseboards that the contractor saw the termite damage to the walls. He went in the basement and found even more damage, necessitating immediate attention to the floor joists and to several places in the main floor. I brought in an exterminator, added some construction costs to the budget and realized in short order I never would have found the damage if I hadn’t been so driven to pull up the carpet. Something – or someone – was stopping me every time I walked in the door, saying “Take up the carpet, and do it first.”
All damage is now corrected and the new floors are going in today.
I come from at least five generations of carpenters and builders. When my three times great grandfather came to this country with his family, I like to think he brought his tools with him. My grandmother’s family came to Indiana from Montreal to build the first Catholic university in America. And when we needed a garage at the house where I grew up, the one we lived in before my current house, my dad, his dad, and his grandfather built it. Of all the places in my childhood, that little white garage is the one place with the most emotional attachment. I can still see them working there, together.
“Take up the carpet – do it first.”
We went to Mass together over Easter – my children, their dad, and me. We selected the Easter Vigil purely out of convenience. We all love that service and have attended many vigils in the past and with airplane and car travel plans the next day, it just seemed like the thing. We had a lovely dinner beforehand.
During the service, the priest mentioned the communion of saints and my daughter and I looked at each other, sensing Marian was close by. I was smiling to myself, remembering her gentle soul, when the priest announced that the Mass was being said in honor of my father. I felt like I’d been hit. We had no idea that the Knights of Columbus had asked for that Mass to remember my dad. My dad, who died last year. My dad, who had long been a member of the KOfC.
I live in New York and am able to visit my home parish only a few times a year, much as I wish I could visit more often. The odds that I would choose to attend that one beautiful celebratory service are astronomical. But there we were. And it was wonderful.
“Take up the carpet – do it first.”
My ancestors surround me and right now, they are guiding me. And my feet. And I like to think they will look after my house for me when I’m not there, but I suppose, the fuller appreciation of the communion of saints notwithstanding, that’s a lot to ask of the dead.