For all its idyllic vistas and community spirit, rural Maine can be harsh, isolating and lonely, most especially in the winter. Maine winters hold a stark beauty that shines an unforgiving light on the soul. We soon found ourselves unable to escape our own frailty and foibles. At the end of our third winter, a singularly snowy and cold one, Rita and I were succumbing to a confluence of secularism, bad advice and the detritus of the Cultural Revolution by which we all are still afflicted. Our young, bright love was threadbare; ten years into our marriage, we were ready to move on. Virtually all of our friends were counseling a fresh start. “Time to hang it up,” we were told. “Why hold on to a dead thing?” “There are plenty of other opportunities,” and indeed there were for us both.
I fought a separation for the whole long winter, but by spring had hardened myself to leave behind nine lovely years and one difficult, complicated one. Not much anger, not even a lot of bitterness: after a few brief, generally desultory skirmishes about who got the Bob Dylan albums and other prosaic living arrangement matters, we settled on a Saturday in early May for move out day. Two separate incidents led us to the other fork in the road.
The first was a coffee Rita shared with our friend, Pam, during the week prior to moving day. Pam, a gifted artist and painter, lived a rough life; her ne’er do well husband had deserted her a dozen years before with six children. An earth mother type, Pam soldiered on, tolerating occasional visits from her husband – no divorce and rare support. She was much liked and admired in town, especially by Rita. Pam took a chance and defied the common “wisdom” amongst our circle of friends; Pam told Rita that we were a good match wading through some confusion and pain, but that separating was a mistake – a big mistake.
When I came home from work on Friday, Rita asked if we could give it one more effort. My resolve was hard earned, and my initial internal reaction was “hell, no!” With my game face on, I looked at our two young children, the vulnerable hope on Rita’s beautiful face and could not, would not smash our one last attempt. Although I held meager expectations, I thought perhaps, just perhaps, we could raise our children together and restore a semblance of the friendship that had always come so easily and that would allow us to do the right thing. This was my best hope, but far short of what we would become. I agreed to try again – all in. I quit my job with all its traveling and worked part time pruning and taking down trees to spend more time on our marriage. We lived frugally and got by. But there was no miracle cure.
The next few weeks in retrospect we likened to living in a bombed out, post apocalyptic city among sterile ruins. There was no healing, no fighting, no feeling, no animus, no forgiveness, not much of anything. I remember vividly one striking mid spring day of bright sun and burgeoning green, we drove up to the Orono campus of the University of Maine about an hour and a half north. I had been invited to join the board of a state wide non-profit and thought it would be good to be together for the day. On the silent ride home, the juxtaposition of vernal splendor, new life and our hollowed out spirits almost brought me to tears.
The second incident that permanently altered our lives for the good occurred a week or so later. Rita found an old set of rosary beads given to her by her late aunt, Rose, and awkwardly prayed with no confidence Anyone was listening, a desperation move if ever there was one. On Saturday, she asked me if we could go to Mass. Cradle Catholics, we hadn’t set foot in a church for a decade; I wouldn’t have been more surprised if she suggested we move to Zambia.
Rita has always acted as the emotional and spiritual catalyst in our marriage; I tend to be the implementer, who thinks through the how and the why. It is our defining character and the personality of our relationship. I didn’t fight the suggestion, but told her that if God existed, if we found any truth in our attendance at Mass, our lives would change profoundly: our activities, our friendships, how we spent our time. She cautioned me not to get all “cosmic” on her, that she merely sought the solace of a childhood faith for a Sunday morning. “We’ll see,” I said.
We looked up Catholic Churches in the Yellow Pages (an anachronism now). Mount Vernon was at the center of a fifty mile circle roughly encompassing Augusta, Waterville and Farmington. Rita worked part time as an RN in Augusta, but Farmington for some reason attracted us. I called St. Joseph’s Church in Farmington; a friendly voice picked up with a lively, “St. Joe’s!” Father Joe McKenna answered his own phone calls and was nearly perfect for hurting children of the sixties — an admixture of intellectual, poet, faith filled priest and wonderfully warm and funny human being with holes in the elbows of his sweaters. We entered the little, wood framed church on a side street, far smaller than the Baptist, Episcopalian and Congregationalist stone and brick edifices on Main Street. It was Pentecost Sunday, no happenstance, and Father Joe was alive with the Spirit.
We began an utterly surprising and unexpected faith journey that fills our lives and has never disappointed. The human mind is immured by limitations of intellect, knowledge and imagination; the soul is unencumbered. We asked and continue to deepen our understanding of three questions, perhaps the three questions, trinitarian in nature, an inexhaustible wellspring. To me, no person addresses our existential human loneliness without asking them.
Saint Bede on his deathbed in 735 is known to have said, “If it so please my Maker, it is time for me to return to Him Who created me and formed me out of nothing when I did not exist.” From whence do we come? Why?
Reinhold Niebuhr, American theologian and commentator, said, “Christian faith stands or falls on the proposition that a character named Jesus, in a particular place at a particular time in history, is more than a man in history, but is a revelation of the mystery of self and of the ultimate mystery of existence.” Is there a bridge to the eternal, a gateway? If so, Who?
Saint Cyril of Jerusalem wrote, “Water comes down from heaven as rain, and although it is always the same in itself, it produces many different effects… It does not come down now as one thing, now as another, but while remaining essentially the same, it adapts itself to the needs of every creature… In the same way the Holy Spirit, whose nature is always the same, simple and indivisible, apportions grace to each.. Like a dry tree which puts forth shoots when watered, the soul bears the fruit of holiness when repentance has made it worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit.” If the gap is so bridged, where do we go from here? How?
Nearly two millennia ago on Pentecost, the Church was born with a visitation of the Holy Spirit; thirty five years ago on Pentecost this weekend, our marriage, our faith, our lives and our souls were reborn. Happy Anniversary, sweetheart.
“Only the Christian thinker is compelled to examine all his premises, and try to start from the fundamental terms and propositions.” T.S. Eliot
12 responses to “Maine Tales IV – The Road Not Taken”
As you pointed out in a recent email, you and I probably see the world from vastly different points of view. That being the case, the content of some of your blogs fails to resonate with me. And yet I read them all. Why? Because of three things that always manage to shine through: your passion, your honesty and your conviction. It is easy to write about those things of which we are passionate or hold strong convictions. It is not so easy to write honestly and openly about our truths; our personal truths. Those open us up to judgement and ridicule, two things that we all dread to one degree or another. Bravo to you for having the courage to tell your truths in this forum.
Anthony, thanks for the kind words. Coming as they do from a professional storyteller, I value your opinion. In one of your recent publications in your Waypoints newsletter, you wrote that some people meditate, some enter therapy and some write to more fully understand themselves and their world. And that you fall into the writers group. I guess I do as well.
While I appreciate greatly all who read and comment on the blog, trying my utmost to write what I believe to be true is, as they say, its own reward.
I knew Anthony a couple of companies ago, where he worked as a professional trainer, and a good one. We probably do see the world through a very different lens, but I know you to be an honest observer, who writes what you believe to be true in good faith and kindness. For that I have respect. Any out there who would like to get to know Anthony a little better, try his website, subscribe to his Waypoints, hell, hire him as a storyteller – you may disagree with him, but I promise you won’t be bored.
We were married in the Church in the middle of the winter and our marriage was “reborn” in the springtime on the Feast of Pentecost. God is good.
Happy Anniversary to you too sweetie.
Reets, you remain the great love of my life. Always, j
Beautifully written, Dad. I never knew some of the intimate details and thoughts going through your minds–I really enjoyed reading this. Happy Anniversary–in some ways an more meaningful one than your wedding anniversary. Still can’t believe that you didn’t know it was Pentecost and Fr. Joe had just returned from a fire rally. God knows what He’s doing, especially when we don’t…. 🙂 Love you both, ang
Ang, We had absolutely no idea it was Pentecost and only an imperfect memory that there even was a Pentecost. I sometimes contemplate what my life would have been without Mom and you four beauties, and how foolish, self focused, vain and short sighted I was; it always drops me to my knees. We are all easily capable of overlooking our blessings and terrifyingly capable of ingratitude for them. “God does know what He’s doing, especially when we don’t,” indeed. Love, Dad
This is beautiful. I’m a friend of Angela’s from college– incredibly grateful to have been touched by that branch of the Parquette Family tree– and inspired to learn where it originated. Thank you for sharing.
Good to hear from you, Alison. I well remember your friendship (and sisterhood) with Angela at Franciscan U. Not only would there have been no marriage, the greatest gift in my life, without that Pentecost 35 years ago, there would have been no Angela. But that’s another story. It is I who am incredibly grateful. j
Thanks for reading Alison! Glad you enjoyed it. I’m of course biased, but we all think he needs to write a book 🙂 Miss you!!
Great story Jack, as usual, caused me to reflect. Margy and I have stared into that abyss as well and were fortunate to step back. Ours was more of a story of not knowing how to manage thru a horrible decision made prior to our getting married. It took a bit longer for us to understand we were meant to be together forever. We will be celebrating ann anniversary this week as well, 33 years later I KNOW we made the correct decision to stay committed to the vows we made.
Keep up the good work
Happy Anniversary Uncle Greg and Aunt Margy! Wow, 33 years, that is something very special these days–you are very blessed. Love, ang
Ditto to that Greg and Margy! Thirty three years is a long run these days. Congratulations and may God continue to bless you both. Love you, Rita