At almost the same time I was writing my post about St. Blaise the day before yesterday, my friend Mary from California was writing me a vignette about the Feast of St. Blaise from her childhood.
I want to share it with you, and hope she won't mind:
Here's a blast from the past that I hope will be of cheer to you.
Remember Candelmas? Was that the same as St. Blaise's day--when you went to church and had your throat blessed with two fork-like but unlit candles?
For some reason, a certain St. Blaise's day flashed into my memory today. Hadn't thought about it in years.
It was either a Catholic school day off (dubious) or a snow day. My mother loaded all of her kids at the time into the station wagon, and drove us to church---up a very precipitous and snowy hill. I'll bet you $10 she was pregnant at the time.
Anyhow, multiple priests did the throat blessing. My mom and her numerous kids were kneeling at the altar rail. The priest nearest us (ex-Navy and dying of lung cancer; we didn't know that) neglected to notice our family, impossible as it seems. My unassertive mother called out softly to him, to remind him of her family. I'll never forget what he said: "Mrs. C, you don't need any more blessings. They're all kneeling around you."
I didn't know he knew her name (big Catholic factory parish) and I had never heard a priest address anyone personally, let alone kindly, from the other side of the altar rail. He then proceeded to bless all of our throats. I was just a little kid, but I knew enough to be touched and know it was a special moment. My mom did, too. I think every once in a while she forgot that we were blessings (and more than once in a while some of us weren't), but that priest's kindness and willingness to step out of the rules to reach out to my very shy and reserved mom were a blessing upon blessings.
And I wish blessings upon blessings to you, Tim. I wish I had remembered this on Candlemas Day, but, honestly, it just came back as a flash this afternoon. Don't ask me why. I guess the Spook is loose.
I've got great friends. (There are a great many of them who share the name Mary. I wonder what's up with *that*?)
Being so far from home for so long now (into the twentieth month in a row of being mobilized/deployed), I'm especially aware of how much I'm missing the companionship and proximity of all my family and friends, whatever their names.
As more and more of my buddies go on their mid-tour leave, I'm also realizing more acutely that I was told after the fact that I'd agreed to give up my mid-tour leave, in order to get paper-pushers elsewhere to agree to let me attend my Chaplain Captains Career Course last October.
(It doesn't help, either, that I found out after graduating from that course and returning to Europe, that I'd only been given orders to *go* to the U.S. and to *return* from the U.S., but not to *be* in the U.S. for the duration of those other orders. Without the latter, there's no way to get reimbursed for the hotel, rental car, fuel, or food for those two weeks. Ninety days later, "it's being worked.")
I suspect that the Seasonal Affective Disorder which had been attenuated by my years in California, and my winter in Iraq, has been aggravated by the darkness, cold, snow, and ice of this place.
Coupled with the long time away from home, the lack of other members of my Jesuit Community to pray and hang out with, the dearth of people who go to a lot of AA and Al-Anon meetings to bump into here, some general ridiculousness attendant upon being here, and the knowledge that I'm the only one in my section who didn't actively choose not to take leave, the S.A.D. is attempting to do its winter-time thing for the first time in many years.
The light and warmth of friendship are wonderful gifts, though, and can be very healing, even from a distance. Those friends of mine who go to a lot of AA and Al-Anon meetings -- like Susan R and CPT Pete and CPT M -- who've sent me goodies through the mail, really lift my spirits through their generosity and thoughtfulness.
Mrs. B, whose grandson Justin died while home on pass from an Army School a couple of years ago, continues to astound me with her benefactions. Her support has directly benefited MSG McG and his wife; SGT M (who's in Haiti at the moment) and his new wife who's quite ill; and SPC K (whom I met last year in Iraq) and his wife.
Contact with Elaine W, Mary O, and Elizabeth G keeps me going, as they keep reminding me of the pearls of wisdom they hear at the many AA and Al-Anon meetings they attend. (At least they keep telling me they're "casting pearls before" me, and then they laugh. Do you think there's an inside joke there?) The same goes for Bert W, and way too many others of their ilk.
Susan and Dan; Helen and Carl; the good people from Operation MOM; Dan; David from Stockton; Charlotte; Apryll; Mary; those amazing youngsters from Glastonbury VFW Post 7659 who convinced Starbucks from Somerset Square in Glastonbury to donate some coffee to go with the CASES of Girl Scout cookies that arrived a short time ago -- there are simply too many people to thank for their kindnesses, and not enough space!
I'm grateful beyond words that I'm able to stay in close touch with my parents and family, as well. My sister and brother-in-law, the optometrists, got me fixed up with new glasses, despite having to wait far too long to get reimbursed for their efforts.
I could go on and on.
Albert Camus (of all people) once wrote (and I paraphrase, since I don't do French): "In the midst of winter, I found within myself an invincible summer." Perhaps because it's hibernation time here, I can really identify with that sentiment.
My life is filled with blessings, and my gratitude for them keeps me centered in the light of a blazing spirituality that illumimes, warms and nurtures my soul through the darkness and cold of this winter far from home and hearth, one day at a time.
(Of course, I'm not speaking for the Army in any official capacity here, lest anyone be "confused.")
Blessings and peace to one and all,
Fr. Tim, SJ