This post comes straight to you from the Abbey of Gethsemani, where we are granted wi-fi privileges for two hours in the evening, just after Compline and Benediction. I will write more about my retreat later, but tonight I want to set down the tale of my dramatic journey here, which took me over the Eastern Continental Divide in perilously snowy weather, then my gentle descent into West Virginia, where I was determined to dig out my long-lost best friend from high school. But the closer I came to his town, the more nervous I became. Was I crazy to just drop in on him without warning, just show up on his front door? Yes, probably. But I had been more afraid of contacting him ahead of time, which would have been the wiser thing to do: That might have given him the chance to reject seeing me, however politely. And to go on a Sunday, of all days: Certainly this must be the worst day to try and see a Catholic priest.
Yes, he was a priest now. That is the oddest part of the whole story, because when I knew him, he was not even Catholic! I knew he had a spiritual bent, but that was not the way I saw him going. The last I’d heard was that he was going into a medical field. If he had any vocation, I thought it was simply the state of West Virginia. He loved that place, and even though he was growing up in Connecticut, he’d been born in WV and longed to return. So I knew at least that’s where I’d find him.
On the Internet, I found somehow he had converted, went to seminary, and was now pastor of a parish in the northern part of the state. So I thought I would arrive in time for the last Mass there (having brought up the parish bulletin online) and try to see him afterwards. I knew he surely had tasks and plans for rest of the day—it was a Sunday, after all—but I felt it would be enough to just set eyes on him again, to see how he’d turned out. We had not seen each other since our early twenties. I just really needed to know he was…well, okay. Doing well. Happy.
But the snow and ice at the mountainous Maryland/WV border confounded my plans and slowed me up. I arrived sometime around one, a full hour after the last Mass had ended. I was bit confused by the town he was in, having envisioned some bucolic country setting amid farms and cows. It was actually a small, gritty city, replete with new construction and decaying old structures; and I found his parish complex draped over a hillside near the center of town. I entered the church—a little Romanesque jewelbox, complete with an exquisite rose window over the choir loft—and hesitantly asked some lingering parishioners where ‘Father’ was. How strange that word felt, dropping from my lips!
Well, to make a long story short…After a bit of searching and scurrying about, ‘Father’ was found. And when he saw me…He looked at me blankly for a moment, then almost literally fell over, grabbing me in an embrace. “Kathy, of course, of course, it’s you, I remember you, I remember your face…” I was about to politely make my exit, since it was clear he had a parish function, but he wouldn’t let me. “We’ll go to lunch, we’ll talk, we’ll reminisce…”
And we did. And it was wonderful: we talked, over Mexican food, for most of the afternoon. All I could have hoped for, and more. He is okay, better than okay, a much loved priest and pastor, It’s clear his parishioners and co-workers love him. We talked of serious matters, of the Church, of faith, of the scandals, but also more intimately, as true old friends, about ourselves and our parents and siblings and other old-time mutual friends, and the trials of growing older and medical issues. I guess it’s so, that a true friendship never dies. We re-bonded, re-connected, and I left, filled with crazy joy, grinning all the way down through the rest of the state to Huntington, where I crossed the border into Kentucky…to begin my next adventure.