A few weeks ago, I was sitting on the front porch sipping my coffee and watching the children play in the yard when the delicately sweet, clean scent of a nearby gardenia bush drifted by. I was suddenly taken back to the days I spent as a child 70 miles east of Dallas in the small town of Winnsboro, TX.
When I think of those days — whispering ghost stories of the old Hogg Mansion while hiding beneath the long, thick limbs of the magnolia tree at the far end of the Old City Cemetery or chasing the dog that got loose in the sanctuary of the Methodist Church — I realize that most of my favorite childhood memories took place right there amongst the piney woods and cattle farms of East Texas. I was free to become lost in the obliviousness of childhood there and thus spent my days baiting shoe box traps with wilted carrots from my mother’s kitchen in hopes of catching the jackrabbit that sprinted across our backyard every morning or playing with my father’s fishing minnows on the edge of Mr. White’s pond. On hot summer afternoons we raced our Big Wheels throughout the sidewalks of the church; it was, after all, just an extension of our own yard. And on occasion, we even trimmed the church’s prized rose bushes with nothing more than a pair of blunt tip scissors and then sold our bouquets to some of the more sympathetic and good-natured parishioners. I swear the memories I collected there could have fallen straight off the pages of a Willie Morris or a James Herriot novel.
There’s a story that my parents often like to tell of the time they decided my brother and I were old enough to walk into town to the Five and Dime all on our own. My brother could not have been more than 8 and I more than 7, though for some reason I remember us being a bit younger. They sent us out the door with a firm command to hold one another’s hand the entire way, which we did, not wanting to abuse their confidence in our impeccable maturity or sabotage our newly acquired independence.
We marched into town hand-in-hand, he and I, basking in our freedom. I will never forget the peculiar mix of emotions I felt that day: the thrill of independence, the uncertainty of what we might encounter on our journey and the silent fear that we might not be ready for the task that lay ahead.
What we didn’t know was that my father had telephoned everyone he knew along the way and had asked them to keep an eye out for us and call when we passed by. The funeral director, the banker, the shop owners, everyone in town was in on our great adventure, watching over us, protecting us and allowing us to safely grow and explore the world around us. No matter what we experienced along the way, my father’s friends were ready and willing to do whatever was needed to ensure we arrived home without harm.
Inevitably, each time this story is told my mind wanders back to the times in my life during which I felt overwhelmed by an extreme sense of isolation. And then, quite unintentionally, the names of all the Saints upon whom I have called throughout my life to pray for me and to teach me how to remain faithful during the trials of inescapable suffering begin to dance around my mind as if to say, “Yes, we too remember those long and arduous times!” And then I am forced to admit that even in the depths of my loneliness I was never really alone.
On this day, during this very hour, at this exact moment you and I are enveloped by a multitude of prayers and petitions not only from those who are closest to us but from the Saints who have gone before us and who are our companions along our journey home. Though the Saints do not walk among us, they “constantly care for those whom they have left on earth” (2683) as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In addition to this, we have each been given the Spirit of God who comforts us and “intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Romans 8:26).
No, none who claim the risen Christ as their Savior are ever truly alone. With such knowledge as this, surely we can muster enough courage in the face of our loneliness to command the voices of our doubts and fears to be silent.
Rebekah Durham Hart is a relatively recent convert to Catholicism. After graduating from Columbia Theological Seminary (a Presbyterian Seminary in Decatur, GA) in 2002 and working within various ministries of the United Methodist Church, she entered into full communion with the Catholic Church in 2006. She has shared her conversion story with Gus Lloyd on Sirius XM’s Catholic Channel.
Rebekah is currently a stay-at-home mom and, when she is not stepping on her son’s Legos or having tea parties with her two little girls, she blogs at http://instinctivephilosophies.com/.
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