love story of unlikely plot line
it all started when the dishwasher broke. well, not the whole story. but this latest installment in the look-back machine.
the little green light on the old reliable dishwasher, the one that’s scrubbed up after graduations (grade school, high school, college) and christmas and bar mitzvahs (twice), the one that’s worked monday through sunday for a good 13 years, it started to blink incessantly. i tried every trick in the book but could not get the blinking to cease. so i looked it up in that all-purpose answer box, the internet, and discovered the blink that won’t stop is short for “call the repairman.” so i did.
when he arrived in the depth of the latest cold snap, the kind man with the toolbox asked for the instruction manual (not so sure it’s a very good sign when the repairman wants to check the manual). that’s what led me to the cobwebby corner of the basement, where one creaky file drawer led to another and suddenly i was staring at a row of neatly filed manila envelopes, each one bearing my scribble. each one with a label of sorts: “bk beginning,” “+BDK msgs,” “memories — BAM/BK.”
this certainly wasn’t the clue to how to work the dishwasher, but i was decidedly sidetracked there in the dark in the basement. i reached for the stash titled “memories,” and out slid a slice of my long-ago past.
the very first thing i found, in a crisply typed envelope addressed to me at the chicago tribune, was a letter from one of the loveliest priests that ever there was. a long lean gray-bearded runner with the gentlest dark-blue eyes, an irishman who walked about the neighborhood in his irish cable-knit sweater, doffing his irish-wool cap and pausing to listen to all sorts of sidewalk confessions. father fahey was his name, father john fahey, and the letter i held in my hands, the letter he’d typed in april of 1989, it literally, was a letter that would change my life.
not too many weeks before he’d written the letter, that gentle-souled priest had answered the door of the rectory, and ushered in me and the tall bespectacled fellow i’d fallen in love with. the one who was decidedly jewish, and not at all sure what to do with an irish catholic — this one, in particular. we’d knocked on the rectory door because we were looking for answers, looking for a way for a jew and a catholic to begin a journey we never wanted to end. we had an inkling that we’d found in each other something we might have always been looking for. except for the part where i was catholic and he was jewish. that twist in the narrative plot was making it tangled.
we knew father john to be wise, the sort of soft-spoken fellow to whom you could bring your worries and woes. so we climbed the grand winding staircase behind him, and sat ourselves down across from his armchair, up in his study at the top of the stairs. father john listened. and spoke only three words: “follow your bliss,” he told us, as if a buddhist koan we were to decipher. we’d climbed to the top of the priestly stairs to be handed a three-word instruction.
we tucked those words snugly into our pockets and chit-chatted just a little bit longer. then we left and, some weeks later, the letter arrived. paper-clipped to the letter was the “business card” of another priest (do priests have business cards? well, in this case, in the case of a priest who always claims “i’m in the god business,” a business card it was).
gentle john the priest wrote that i should “take [my] love for Blair, and [my] search for God into [my] heart, and patiently, prayerfully wait for the answer to come.”
and then, in the very next paragraph, he typed: “God may be responding immediately.”
holy cow! that is some service!
father john then proceeded to tell me that he’d just bumped into a priest who happened to mention that he’d pulled together a group, “jews and catholics, who are living through the religious test which their love presents.”
“i think that some are married,” father john wrote, “some are thinking of marriage. i immediately thought of you, and so i asked for the priest’s card.” call him, he tells me.
and so i do, i do call the priest with the business card, and the tall bespectacled one and i knock on his rectory door. and he, too, ushers us in, and sits us down in chairs, and tells us words we’ll never forget: “i’m in the god business. god is love. you’re in love, so how can i help you?”
we explain; he responds: “there’s one God. you both pray to the same God, but you pray in two different languages.” he paused long enough to shoot us a look that meant he meant business. in short order, he shooshed out the door: “go with God and go in love.”
so we did. the priest with the business card has been there all along the way. and so was a rabbi, the one who two years later would marry us (along with another priest, an old friend of the family). they were both there in our tiny back garden, in the days just after 9-11 when the whole world shuddered, but we cradled a newborn baby, and it was the day for the baby’s blessing, which is like a baptism, but it comes in two religions. they were there at two first communions, and two bar mitzvahs. they’ve been there again and again.
and that was 30 years ago. and 31 years ago tonight, the tall bespectacled one walked into my apartment for the very first time. i can still see him rolling up the sleeves of his white brooks brothers button-down. can still see him taking a seat at my tiny circle of a kitchen table, can remember how while i pulled foil-wrapped salmon packets from out of the oven, he told me of a thai soup he’d eaten the night before and how it “was a symphony of flavors.” i remember my ears perked at the description. i remember how something else perked at the rolling up of the sleeves.
i can’t say i’d spent much time before then considering the notion of love at first sight, but i know i felt a thump in my chest that night, almost the minute he walked in the door. and sitting here now at this old, scratched maple table, listening to him pull the carton of milk from the fridge and the special K from the pantry, i can conjure that thump in a heartbeat.
and i gaze over at that letter, the one father john typed, sealed, and slipped into the mail chute all those years ago. and father john is gone now. (by the way, he too followed his bliss, left the priesthood, married a widow (his best friend’s widow), moved to northern california, and died a few years ago…) but his letter, unearthed just this week from the dark of a drawer in the basement, it’s a treasure.
no wonder i saved it.
it saved me. and us.
happy 31 years to the bespectacled one, though this day does not mark the day that you fell for me. that would come later, months later. i’m the one who counts this day as the very beginning. i knew what i knew when i knew it. in time, you knew it too.
will you tell a love story?
Happy “anniversary” of sorts and you took me traveling down my lane of memories of Fr. Fahey, my friend, my guide, my boss. He was a unique and beautiful soul. Before he retired he was giving things away as he was preparing to move onto his new vocation of husband and grandpa. He bequeathed me a hand colored print of a Yeats quote which sits over my desk as I tap these keys: “We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us that they may see, may be their own images, and so, live for a moment with a clearer perhaps even with a fiercer life because of our quiet.” WBY. I think our virtual table creates just this kind of space. Thanks for that dear bam. Happy memories and I hope a happy dishwasher???
Oh, dear God, honey, that is sooooo gorgeous…I thought of you as I wrote of him, as I know your own love story began on that same city block, in the realm of Father John. So blessed you are to have a treasure of his….
Can you imagine how grateful I am that father john was the first priest blair encountered? We walk in his light…
(I’m scribbling down that line from Yeats, in hopes that I can live toward it…)
I’m copying down that Yeats quote too. Still water. I love that image. xoxoxo
Happy anniversary to the both of you from Rome. Fr. Fahey was my priest at st. clement! we must have been at the same masses before we found our darling husbands:). enjoy!
Rome?!?! Are you having tea with Francis, himself?!? Sending love❤️
“God may be responding immediately.” How perfectly wonderful! I didn’t know Fr. John Fahey, but I know his story. Cheers to him! And I know the other Fr. John too. So thankful that you and your beloved encountered such holy wisdom when you went knocking at the door.
Such a beautiful love story… Thank goodness for the wisdom of these good priests. Happy 31 years! Wishing you many, many more. xo
thank you, dear beautiful friend. and here we are just a blink later. i made the very same salmon packets for dinner last night that i’ve made every feb. 15 since 1988. only this time, as we sat there recounting all that’s happened since then, one kid was flying to boston for a debate tournament and another was holed up in new haven, becoming a lawyer. #where’dthetimego?
Thank you Barbie.
That was wonderful
oh, dear gracious! you just melted my heart. thank YOU for reading. my sweet boy is in your neighborhood this weekend, 02138, at a debate tournament. he is SOOOOO happy to be back in cambridge. was alarmed to see Petsi’s Pies on Putnam is no longer…..but it’s a darwin’s and that is a very fine thing. petsi’s on putnam was just out our window……
So dear to be reminded that we share a similar Catholic/Jewish Beschert..
My Beloved and I came equipped with sensitive, scholarly and pious men of our Faiths who, praises, imbued us with the supportive wisdom that confirmed our choice, or was it choice? There are Talmudic scholars who question bashert as denying free will in it all, but like yours, there is a sense
and a knowing of the moment you are truly home…… and home to stay.
Blessed Anniversary, bam dear.
“a knowing of the moment you are truly home….
deep resonance in those words. i feel them through and through….
I am so glad you received a blessing in that letter, which affirmed all that was already residing in your heart. Blessing on behalf of life and may the blessings continue through the sublime, the profound and the quotidian matters of household appliances and chores.
good morning, beautiful SLJ! big fat flakes of snow pouring here, as i find this.
your voice here is a burst of light.
indeed, a love that surges through broken dishwashers and the loving of children halfway across the land mass this morning….a love that finds room for all…..