I once read, “Synchronicity happens when we align with the flow of the universe rather than insisting the universe flow our way.” I have experienced what I identify as synchronicity many times in my life. Too many times to simply explain those occurrences as “coincidence.”
I am not a person of great faith. Had things been different, I might have more faith. But my journey has too often been damaged and betrayed by religion.
Nonetheless, my spirit remains. At times, my spirit is embraced deeply, held by an unknown power. At those times, my spirit is vital and full of wonder.
Synchronicity happens in relationship. It comes like a spiritual surprise. I’m not sure how well I “stop insisting that the universe flows my way.” But when such “cosmic connections” happen, I am more keenly aware. I see everything and everyone through a lens of great compassion. A friend tells me such compassion is the “Big Love” of the Cosmos.
My appointment today was at the Christiana Spine Center. My doctor was performing bi-lateral epidurals at L-5/S-1, a procedure aimed at reducing the pain from a herniated disc. I have had numerous epidurals, cervical and lumbar, for injuries received in a car accident 13 years ago. Every epidural has given me some degree of relief from the pain. Today was no exception. Thank God.
Feeling “better,” I left the Spine Center and drove a short distance to the Home Depot. I needed to pick up a few items. As I was checking out, I was recognized by a long-time friend.
During my 20 years of ministry at St. Mark’s High School, I have worked with thousands of teenagers and their families. In a small state like Delaware that means I get recognized a lot. Fortunately, most of those who see me at some public place have good memories of me. And I am always delighted to see them.
Standing at one of the self checkout registers, a voice loudly announced, “Father Greg!” Two lanes away, I spotted a young couple, also checking out. The man then said to the woman he was with (and everyone else within hearing distance), “Oh my God… that’s my priest from high school.” (Do people really emphasize the word “priest” when they announce it in public or is that my fear of what might come next?).
I responded, “Hey, how are you?” I had no idea who I was talking to, but it seemed the right thing to do. Then, I heard him say to her, “I’ve to go over and see Father Greg.”
As he walked toward me, I glanced in his direction but still did not get a good look at his face. He approached and grabbed my hand and shook it hard. My response was one of the standard (strange) questions I sometimes ask when meeting a former student. I said, “How long have you been out of jail?” Without hesitation, he responded, “Father Greg, I’ve been out of jail for a long time… you know that!”
Then I turned and finally looked fully into his smiling face. I recognized him immediately and he recognized my embarrassment. And we both started to laugh. God bless him.
As it turns out, this young man has indeed spent time in jail. I used to visit him in jail. He has always held a special place in my heart. Our friendship began when he entered 9th grade high school at Saint Mark’s.
I won’t name him (although I am sure he would not mind). Still, I think it would be disrespectful. And I have a lot of respect… and love, for this young man.
His story is heartbreaking. But he is heartwarming. Despite the tragedies he has experienced, he lives as a person who is happy and grateful and optimistic. He is not a victim. And that makes his story a source of hope and inspiration to me and so many others.
His mother was killed by a serial killer in Delaware when she was 27 years old. Her son, my friend, was 5 years old when it happened. The man who killed his mother had graduated from St. Mark’s High School 13 years earlier. Coincidentally (or “synchronistically”), that man’s daughter was a student at St. Mark’s during her father’s murder trial and I was her counselor. I would also become his counselor. He was convicted and, three years later, he was executed at the State prison in Smyrna. I was there to witness that horrible event. The date and location of his funeral and burial were not announced out of respect for his family. I presided at his funeral service.
The long-time friend I met today was so young when his mother was killed. Yet he has vivid memories of her. Despite the wounds he carries deep within, his memories of her have shown me that love triumphs over hate.
His mother lived a troubled, misdirected life. In her teens and early twenties, she was arrested numerous times for drug possession and prostitution. The last time she was seen alive, a friend saw her getting into a van in an area of Wilmington’s Route 13/40 corridor which was known as a pick-up spot for prostitutes. Evidence would later prove that the van she entered was owned by the serial killer. It happened on August 22, 1988. Today happens to be August 22.
When her son was finishing 8th grade, his grandmother made application for him to go to St. Mark’s High School. His records from elementary school indicated that he was not likely a “good fit” for St. Mark’s. He was often absent from school, his grades were below average, and a few teachers described his behavior as “trouble maker/delinquent.”
Yet he was accepted into St. Mark’s high school. He was accepted because Miss Rachael Ali, assistant principal and a person of amazing goodness, had not forgotten. She remembered this boy. She knew his grandmother because she had kept in touch with her over the years. Rachael told our administrative team, “I strongly recommend we accept this boy into our school. We owe him. We owe his family. This is the right thing to do.” We all agreed with Rachael.
Of course that meant that this alleged “trouble maker” would have regular counseling sessions with Father Greg. I remember them well.
The first time he came to my office, I asked him to take a seat anywhere he wanted. He sat in my chair, in front of my desk. He liked the fact that it swiveled and soon he was spinning around and making full circles. He was a skinny, little kid, tough as nails but also sweet and charming. He was trying really hard to be liked. I liked him immediately.
At the Home Depot today I was so happy to meet his wife and 5 year old daughter. His daughter is “Marley,” though he told me that her “real” name is the same as his mother’s. I told Marley that I taught her Daddy in high school and that he was one of my favorite students of all time. And I told him that I always remember and pray to his mother… for him, and all her beloved.
“My wife and I just bought a house in Townsend. We’re really excited,” he said. “That’s great! The last time I saw you, you were working at ShopRite in Wilmington.” “That was a long time ago,” his wife said. “Yes it was,” I responded; “too long ago. Let’s stay connected.” I handed him my card. “Here, call me sometime. Let’s stay in touch.”
“Thank you, Fr. Greg. You’re great!” he said. “I don’t know about that,” I replied, but I sure know that I am greatly blessed. Today, I have the blessing of seeing you again, meeting your wonderful wife and beautiful daughter! Life is good and that’s how it should be!”
“Give me a hug,” he said. We hugged, the four of us, standing there at the exit of the Home Depot.
I know what a coincidence is. But sometimes, we experience a unique “something” that our hearts tell us is much bigger than coincidence. I’ve come to believe that the cosmos has an amazing, indescribable way of reminding us that we are all connected, that we belong to and for one another. I call that way “synchronicity.”
This sounds so much like your life story of loving and connecting with those most in need. So beautiful. Thank you for sharing this and I pray you have less pain this week due to your back doctor. It surely was a blessing to be seen and to have a chance to reconnect in this new way! You have made a difference in the lives of so many students, teachers and others who have been part of your ministry along the way.
I am presently sitting by the waves on the porch of Villa Margarita in Quononchotaugue, RI …invited for the week by my dear CND friend of almost 50 years, Marylou Lyons. You have met her on visits to me/us. There are 12 of us here in this little old INN by the sea which the sisters bought over 50 years ago. This is the week for CND’s to invite their “blood” sisters, relatives and women friends to come. This is my 5th time here so I know all the ones here…lovely reunion…more this year with canes, back surgeries, Parkinson’s, etc. We are all aging up for sure and not sure how much longer they can keep this place. Marylou will be moving to an apartment in September. She is having more health issues as well…especially lung and throat as well as walking any distance. She caught up to my 81 July 8!
I came to Norwalk, CT on Thursday where she lives with 3 other sisters. On Saturday we went to Sacred Heart University chapel for the reception of a woman into their community. It was a beautiful liturgy — 45 years old — and one of the youngest in their order now. Her 2 young nieces ( about 10 or so) did a beautiful liturgical dance to a hymn…”wash me Lord”….after Communion. The chapel is stunning…students were outside across from the chapel practicing their parade music and we often had the bass drums in the background! Many were just arriving for the year. We came here after the Mass and will return to Norwalk on Saturday. I will return home on Monday in time for my dear neighbor, Joyce’s 91st on Tuesday!!
Summer always goes too fast for me…this is such a blessing to be here in the peace and beauty. I just looked up and see 3 sailboats : 2 heading South….and 1 North. George continues alert me of his Presence. I so miss those 30 years on the water with our dear O’Brien friends, Mary Jane & John. Actually, today is John’s 91st Birthday – another synchrony. Blessings, prayers for healing and comfort of heart, Love, Chez ( everyone here calls me that!)??????
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