Late at night whenever my husband and I stop at four-way traffic lights, he says three little words.
“Waste of time.”
It isn’t that Larry is unaffectionate, he’s simply stating his stoplight theory. “There’s no traffic,” he says. We’re wasting gas and polluting the environment.
“Traffic lights should be turned off at 10 p.m.,” he pronounces, as though he were the guy who ran the whole traffic authority, instead of the one who just complains about it while his car idles at midnight, on the
corner of McCart and Berry.
“Traffic lights are a waste of time and money — but we notice them. Why are there other signs around us — spiritual ones — we never notice?”
Larry’s right. The waste-of-time traffic signs are inconsequential compared to the spiritual ones we miss.
I regret the times I didn’t notice signs from friends in need. I regret when I hear a name in the prayer of the faithful, the death of someone I’ve seen and not realized it was the last time.
My friend Brenda lived in the home I now share with Larry. She died suddenly, shocking her family and friends. It was a tragedy, because the day before she died, her children didn’t know they would never see
her again. I grieve about that too.
In our home I find Brenda’s things and I know they will be dear to her children, so I save them. But sometimes, I find other things. Paintings and cross stitch samplers Brenda and I gave each other…and now I have both.
Once I found a page from Brenda’s address book. Aged, the page was torn from the whole book, and lay alone. Shocked, I saw it was my family’s page! Dated 1980, it listed names, and had a silly note in my handwriting. Resting alone in a box, I think it was a sign from Brenda. A welcome sign maybe.
In 2011 our diocese lost the person I considered my dearest friend. Charles King was the person I looked to for spiritual or family guidance. He could point out signs in my life I should have noticed. He taught me signs he learned from his sister, as well as from the parishes in which he had served.
The last time I spoke to Monsignor on the phone, he was in a hospital room. I remember him saying, “You have had a pretty easy time raising your children. You can share your knowledge with the parents of your grandchildren.”
We both laughed. It was the last time we spoke on the phone. But I didn’t know that then. Even though he’s gone, Monsignor and I still communicate. I speak aloud, and he answers me, I think, in signs. When I tell him I miss him, I later find a photo of him with the kids. Things like that.
A month ago, driving to Grapevine alone, I spoke to him. “I miss you, Charles,” I said to the man I had heretofore addressed only as “Monsignor.” “Are you with God? Is there a Heaven? How do I get there? I need a sign.”
I was driving to Grapevine to meet my stepdaughter Amber. She is Larry’s oldest daughter, and we were going on what Amber called a mother-daughter shopping trip, and, like the ones I have with my own daughters, it was comprised mostly of eating. Amber and I began at a tea shop, and ended with dinner. But our favorite “shopping” part was finding beaded crosses. They were made by handicapped children, and reminded Amber of her sister Lauren.
Amber’s cross was large; mine a mere three inches. It was four nails, wired with 116 colored beads — a messy explosion of color and shape. I purchased the crosses, and they went home with Amber and me.
Alone again in my car, I thought of Charles, and resumed our (one-sided) conversation. “Remember our talks about life after death? I need to know there is one. Are you there? I need direction!
“I miss you, Father. Send me a gift. A sign. Something simple I’ll recognize. Back home, I showed Larry the beaded cross, then put it away.
I forgot the long day, the three meals, the shopping and the bodaciously colored beads. I even forgot my temporary lapse of faith and trust, although I continued to pray for the answers everybody needs. I searched for signs.
Weeks later I rediscovered my cross. “I forgot about you!” I said, lifting it in my hand, and touching something in the back, tangled in the beads. Something shiny.
“Okay, Charles,” I said. “ Was this here before? Did I miss it?”
The shiny thing was a gift. “Something simple” I could recognize.
It was a tiny silver charm. It was one word: Hope.