The wicker creaked as he let the full weight of his 41-year-old frame into the chair. Bernard’s favorite moment of the day was when he got to sit in his wicker chair on the side porch. A light breeze moved across the porch in the late afternoon bringing the sweet smell of the pale blue morning glories blooming in the front yard. But, the silence in the air still surprised him even after many weeks of the stay-at-home order.
The “lockdown” was vigorously enforced.
The little town where he lived in upstate New York was hit especially hard by the virus and the “lockdown” was vigorously enforced. Only last week, he and his family sat quietly in tears as they heard the heart-wrenching sobs from the Corrigan house across the street. The neighborhood “grandpa,” Andrew Corrigan, had died. At 82 years of age, he declined so fast that he died at home before he could receive any medical attention. With the “lockdown,” Bernard and his family couldn’t even go to them to express their condolences. Bernard thought, when this is all over, we’ll give old Andy a proper sendoff.
With his face covered with a bandana mask, Bernard would make his way into work each day at his home-fuel distributor business. He carried a letter from the mayor stating that his work was considered “essential” to the community. Each day, when he returned home, everything he was wearing went into a tub of hot water and strong soap. Still, he was afraid that even this would not be enough to keep his family safe.
There was no indication of when this pandemic would end.
As he watched a small robin busily moving from one branch to another, the late afternoon shadow of the house was just reaching the tree line beyond his wife, Sarah’s, garden. Their thirteenth anniversary was coming up and he wondered how they would be able to celebrate when there was no indication of when this pandemic would end.
That ache in his stomach was back as he heard the faint sound of their two sons squabbling over something in their room. He thought, how was this long isolation from school and their friends going to affect them? What if they caught the virus, even with all my precautions? I couldn’t live with that. He wrapped his arms around his stomach and leaned forward in his chair. After a few moments, he reached for the small cross he carried in his shirt pocket and he closed his eyes and sat quietly.
Bernard had been raised Catholic, but in time church had become largely a matter of duty - which he fell further and further from when he became an adult. The attitude of Sarah’s family didn’t help either. But he did continue to secretly carry that small cross in his pocket. Why? he wasn’t sure.
“Lord, why haven’t you ended this?”
These quiet late afternoon visits to his favorite chair gave him far more time that he had ever had before to dwell on just what this all means. As a child, Lord, I believed that you cared. But I’ve been having trouble seeing it for a while. Lord, why haven’t you ended this? Far too many people are dying; so many can’t earn their living. If this is the way you treat people who believe, no wonder you’re losing so many. …..I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that. This is just getting me down so. If you really care, Lord, I need some sign. But I don’t know what sign, short of making this all go away, would really matter.
The late afternoon breeze was picking up and he noticed the air rustling the hedges that lined the yard facing the street in front. The purple blossoms were just appearing and they seemed to be dancing. For some reason, it reminded him of the dancing blossoms on the hedges that circled the grotto behind St Mary’s Church. In his mind’s eye he could see himself standing in line, boys on the left, girls on the right, waiting to file into church for their First Holy Communion. Their hands were joined in front of them, finger pointing to heaven. He didn’t dare turn to speak to his friend Charles who was standing behind him. Sister Gertrude was watching.
Bernard longed for that comforting feeling again,
the moment of receiving Jesus.
He was so excited; he would be receiving Jesus Himself. He knew it would look and taste just like a wafer of bread. But Sister insisted that it would be Jesus Himself, and he believed. Then he remembered John 3:16. Sister had them all memorize that verse, and he still remembered it. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” [Jn 3:16].
Bernard longed for that comforting feeling again, the moment of receiving Jesus. He wanted that feeling in his life again …. no, he needed that feeling again. He’d been away far too long. It was then that he realized that he was staring at the small cross he was still holding in his left hand. He had been squeezing it so tightly it had left a red mark in his palm.
He couldn’t remember taking the cross out of his pocket, Then, he couldn’t remember when he’d spoken to Charles last either. They had been such close friends as children, Bernard and Sarah gave the middle name Charles to their youngest son. But, over the years Charles and he seemed to have drifted apart – much like he and Jesus had.
“There it is, the sign I’ve been asking for.”
With a startle, he sat up straight. There it is, the sign I’ve been asking for – a sign that you really care. I’ve had it all along. The image of Jesus on the cross held his gaze for the longest while. This is the greatest sign that you care, not just for me and my family, but for all of us. Thank you, Jesus.
The silence was suddenly broken by the sound of horses’ hoofs on the cobblestone street in front. He could just make out the red cross on the side of the wagon through the hedges. It was another poor victim of the virus being rushed to the emergency infirmary that was set up at Union Free School. Jesus be with them, he prayed, then he added, thank you that it’s not one of my family. He shivered a bit in the late afternoon breeze as he reached for his pocket watch. He could see that it was almost time for dinner. The little window on the watch face showed the number 28. It was March 28th, 1919.
It was for him his invitation to “come back home.”
It would be another eighteen months before most of upstate New York returned to the way things were before the Influenza pandemic of 1918. In October 1920, at Bernard’s urging, the neighborhood got together for a Memorial Mass for “old Andy” at St Mary’s Church. You see, Bernard didn’t go back to the way things were. While the pandemic had been a terrible ordeal for most, it was for him his invitation to “come back home.”
‘Till next time.
Dcn Bob Evans
March 28, 2022