In our culture, we are encouraged to live only in the present and future. We turn away from the past. Our view of the past is cut away, as if it can be separated from us.
When someone passes, we are told to live in the present, and not look back. Should we do otherwise, we are chastised, sometimes gently, other times not. The voices that chastise are of those around us and our own inner voices. In many ways, I think these voices come with good intentions. We are simply speaking in the way we have been taught. But perhaps there is another way.
Last November, Mother, Melanie and I went to the Memorial Service honoring my Father and other veterans who had recently passed. The service was at the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans' Hospital in Columbia. Dad had passed in July, so the numb had gone and the reality of his absence in the form we had known so well was sitting starkly right in front of us. The Chaplain focused his message on grieving and letting go to the packed audience of people who were also dealing with their own losses. The Chaplain gave one point which has really stuck with me: Tell the stories of the one who has passed.
This simple statement has been very healing for me, like a soothing balm. While I had been doing this before, I began to take this on more intently. I have been telling Dad's stories and I have been blessed by others who are telling his story too. Blessed with 89 years, my Father lived a long time and this very busy man couldn't sit still for most of that time. So there are a lot of stories to tell and many to hear for the 1st time.
I keep chewing on these things trying to make meaning of them. Telling his story has been about honoring who he was, honoring the significance he has had (and always will have) in the lives of those he touched, making meaning of life, and making meaning of how I choose to live my life. At first, telling the stories was awkward and always tender. Now we are laughing more and celebrating joy. Through it all, we feel the fullness of his presence in our lives, always.
In that spirit, we sent postcards to family members and friends this St. Patrick's Day of the Shrine of St. Patrick in St. Patrick, Missouri. Papa was 1 of 3 stonemasons in the construction of this church in the late 1950s. As was usual fare in those construction days, Burr Searcy and Gus Snell worked along side; they have also passed. When asked in the latter years the project of which he was most proud, Dad would always say: "The Church at St. Patrick."
The Shrine was the "Impossible Dream" and vision of Father Francis O'Duignan, who wanted to build a Shrine in honor of St. Patrick, a patron saint of his native Ireland. He solicited donations, particularly from Irish Americans throughout the United States from 1935-1957. This was a big dream and a big job, as St. Patrick was a very small rural community without the capacity to raise the $250,000 among themselves. Under Father O'Duignan's leadership and resulting widespread support, the goal was accomplished.
The Church is absolutely beautiful, towering over the landscape and tiny town that now is home to 15. The Shrine is fashioned after the Church of Four Masters in Donegal, Ireland. It has a rose window, round tower, marble from Italy and Spain, and 37 stained glass windows made in Ireland.
Signficant events in the construction of the church were held on St. Patrick's Day: groundbreaking in 1935, cornerstone laying in 1936, and dedication in 1957. In celebration of the dedication, shamrocks from Ireland were dropped from a plane overhead, in days when air travel (and air travel for plants) was not usual fare.
What you see above is the postcard of the Shrine with some stickers that we added. And yes, my Father was 1 of the 3 stonemasons. Isn't that amazing? How is it possible Dad could have built a church which is a replica of 1 in Ireland, which he had never seen?
When you look at this image, you need to know that Dad was a Master Brickmason, known widely for the quality and attention he put to his work. I believe my Father found many of his happiest moments when he was building, when he was working with his hands, when he was solving problems in the construction trade which meant so much to him. You could just see the wheels turning while his hands were busy at work.
Down below, you will see the picture of Father O'Duignan and my Father laying the cornerstone. Dad was 37 years old when this picture was taken. Father O'Duignan is using Dad's trowel. You can see in the spirit of the photo that both of these men are living their dreams. Father O'Duignan's "Impossible Dream" was becoming reality. My Father was able to use his gifts to build a beautiful church. He was further working toward the fulfillment of another man's dream.
These 2 men were living their gifts and facilitating the achievement of the gifts of another. Are not these the things that give meaning and fullness to life? Is that not what we are supposed to do?
I shall keep telling the stories. In their telling, I remember my Father and the many meanings of life.