My large family is competing for air space around the dining table. I am comfortable here. Actually I am happy here. I glance at my uncle and I see, that he too, is happy in this space.
The food is trademark yummy and is being tossed back and forth. For a moment, here and there the conversation stops long enough to listen to a party of ‘one’ in this party of ‘many.’ However, for the most part it is a ‘party line’ of conversations. We don’t seem to mind. Quite the contrary, my family relishes in the delicious commotion that accompanies the meal.
In between casual conversations we tease my uncle, the priest.
“Cover your ears, Padre,” we say.
We are an irreverent bunch. He is so mild mannered, joyful and spirited that he shows us no matter.
The truth be told he is a Brooklyn boy through and through. He loves everything about being a guy from a big, Irish Catholic family.
“We are a clan,” he says to me with an ever so proud smile.
That is ‘our’ Padre, ‘my’ Padre.
He lives joyfully in the moment. It is how I remember him since I am little.
He is the uncle (the priest to others) that shows grace and patience. It is no trouble for him to stop and help another.
I meet him in a hospital entrance to usher him towards his sister, yet he stops countless times on the way to the elevator to pray for a family member he does not know. He does not let on. He shows no indictors that he is here to see his own family member and not a parishioner.
I love that he treats them all with kindness despite our own personal worry. I know that my mom just floors above us and completely unaware would love this too. She would not want her “Paddy” to rush to her. She, ever so proud of her brother, would delight in those rushing towards him.
It is the first time that I am truly aware of my uncle, the priest. For me he is the guy who sings to us, jumps waves to us and delights in us. It is the first time that I understand that he is never, ever off duty. That he is a symbol of hope, of peace, of forgiveness, of comfort, of healing and of faith to others.
It is thirty minutes later when he makes his way to my mom’s hospital room though there is no dent in his demeanor. He fills the room with grace and is still present for all of us. I know he worries for his sister. He does not let us see that. He protects us.
It is not long after, that we say an impossibly difficult farewell to my mother. It is then, at her mass that I detect a dent in his demeanor. His unshakable faith temporarily made human while his brotherly instincts take over and he says goodbye to his beloved sister.
As it does, time passes.
I am in my home office striking at the keyboard in front of me. I pick up the phone. It is my “Padre,” and I hear the comforting love that for me only his voice carries. He knows I am struggling in my marriage.
It pains me to know he feels my pain.
I suddenly detect that slight dent in his demeanor. The one where uncle meets priest. The one I recognize from my mom’s last goodbye.
“Colleen, the Holy Spirit gave you the gift of joy your whole life,” he says. “Do not let another human being take that that from you.”
I hang up the phone.
I sit quietly in my office. I go over his words again and again. I go over and over the slight dent in his demeanor. The one where uncle meets priest.
He is telling me it is okay to move on from my marriage.
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