The trip to New England was very pleasant and invigorating due to the constant expanse of blue sky and warm southerly breezes. From this was to be my vacation to myself, away from everything that seemed to weigh heavily upon me. I always wanted to to visit a priest friend who is pastor of a small parish in picturesque Vermont, and when this golden opportunity suddenly presented itself, I jumped at the thought of a scenic drive north, the green mountains of New England, and lots of fresh country-clean air.
When I arrived at the little community in which the parish was located, it surprised me to discover that this church was somehow out of place, due to its awesome size and middle-aged looking architecture. Even more astonishing was the fact that this magnificent edifice sat deep in a heavily wooded area with gargantuan and stately Oak and Elm trees surrounding it. To me, it appeared as though this structure had been transported during the days of Robin-hood and his merry men, when excitement must have lurked behind every bush, and the presence of a church even way out here probably placed all emotions into a temporary limbo.
After being welcomed by my friend, and exchanging many past events, I decided to to spend some quiet time alone in church. I was relieved that no one would be in the building since it was early Tuesday morning, and I had on an old jersey which displayed much wear by dried paint and multiple rips along the seams. My cut-off shorts were no better as they sported two pant legs of different lengths and many threads hanging as if they had no place to go except everywhere.
I don’t remember how long I had been there, or if the trip caused me to doze a little, because I never heard her enter the church. I fact, if she hadn’t started to sob out loud, I never would have discovered her, and that might have been tragic. At first my thought was to ignore the situation since most people who come into a church, like she probably did, usually wish to be left alone. But my sense of caring and the increased intensity of her sobbing got the best of me. I moved around one of the very large and ornate columns, the other reason I never saw her, to survey the situation. Then, without much hesitation, I went over to her and politely, but carefully, asked if there was anything I could do for her. At first she eyed me suspiciously, than relaxed a little and began her story. Just one week earlier her only daughter died. As in any family, the event was not only tragic; it tore this family and their world upside down. Now the problem became more acute with her husband shifting all the blame of this unfortunate reality on her. She didn’t remember how far she had come, or how long she had been driving. Her only recollection was the simple solution of suicide. Somehow, the exit off the interstate, familiar to her from past trips this way, was not visible enough to see, and she took the wrong exit away from the lake. “As soon as an area large enough to turn around in appears, that’s when I’ll turn and go to the lake-ending this nightmare.” “But”, she continued, “As I approached the bend in the road there stood this magnificent structure all alone, beckoning me to stop and visit.”
She related how it had been years since the last rime she entered a church. Yet, now her thought was it seemed the only thing to do.
The time must have gone by quickly, unnoticed by either of us, because the early afternoon sunshine began to filter brightly through the many stained glass windows on the Western side of the church. The sobbing had come to an end long ago, and a smile of relief was starting to fill her cheeks with a pink blush as we discussed all the many beautiful and unforgettable moments their family shared together, as though I had been part of it all along. Finally, she got up to leave and make the trip back home, to her husband and the new life they could put together in spite of the great loss within it. As she drifted out of my life, as quickly as she entered, her parting comment was, “Thank you.”
I wondered why, since I did nothing except listen. Then the remembrance of the trip earlier. and the large expanse of blue sky and warm southerly breezes, and the expectation of picturesque Vermont began to paint a vivid memory for me. I had found all this and more in a fleeting moment with a stranger I would never see again, at least not in this lifetime.