|Terese Rigodanzo Kasper, ARCWP|
Somewhere around letter Q Irene’s focus shifted in the direction over my right shoulder. Turning to see what held her gaze, I saw a young Hispanic boy clearly in distress. His arms were raised, head bent and who we correctly identified as his mother was speaking to him directly and constantly with a look of concern etched on her otherwise peace-filled face. To see this boy vomit actually gave us relief that he wasn’t choking or in some other dire situation. In a moment Irene was on her feet and at his side offering whatever assistance might be needed. Her presence also brought comfort to those around him which by this time was a significant group of family, onlookers and staff. A quick return to our table and back she was sharing a readily accepted drink from her cup.
A few minutes after Irene returned to our table so did this young boy along with his entourage. While Mom coached him in Spanish, he turned to both of us and in English said, “Thank you.” Then his story unfolded about how he has brain cancer, was poked here and cut there, even going so far as to show us his chemotherapy port. Today he was tired yet much conversation ensued.
Oh how engaging Irene can be with people. It didn’t take Kenneth long to share that he had seen God. Boy was he happy about that especially since God told him, “I will give you many angels to comfort and accompany you.” Young Kenneth easily and honestly relayed that he didn’t know how much time he might have left here on earth. But it was OK because, “God is so pretty.” You might guess what Roman Catholic Woman Priest Irene asked him next. The answer was a resounding, adamant, “Male.” Yet even as I heard the answer Kenneth gave, I wondered if that was said from tradition, expectation or even a little uncertainly that maybe God could be female. I mean how many young boys would think any male was pretty? Oh, did I tell you he also saw Jesus?
Imagine our delight when young Kenneth said he wanted to pray for us. We bowed our heads as he took our hands. Oh that we understood Spanish. Oh that we wondered if it was indeed another tongue in which his prayers tumbled out of his mouth. We were touched, moved and then even amazed as he laid hands on both our heads. He ended by joining our hands while laying his on top. A powerful invocation in any language!
Once the praying was finished I turned to Kenneth’s mom and inquired, “Abrazo?” She nodded as she stepped into my arms. Little did I anticipate the extent of the comfort she needed nor even in her grief the comfort she gave. The embrace was long and gentle and filled with blessings and bendiciones being exchanged, lifted heavenward. Then it was Irene and Mom’s turn; oh, what an encounter!
All the while we were surrounded by an assortment of beautiful wide-eyed sisters. Such quiet and peace in this large family I hadn’t truly experienced before. Even while my heart was moved to want to do something for them, Irene asked permission for us to purchase a new shirt for Kenneth. A genuine, “Are you cold in your wet shirt?” prompted Kenneth’s simple response to Irene, “Yes.” We were off and running and returned shortly with a fun, funky tee shirt accompanied by complementary headphones from Irene and a more conservative replacement school uniform shirt from me. A small bag of dark chocolates was added, a staple required by all moms.
It was time to say farewell to our newfound friends. This included meeting more of Kenneth’s seven brothers and sisters, a few cousins and a wave of his free arm from dad holding baby seated a few tables away. With hugs all around and appreciation expressed on all sides, we walked away wondering what Grace had just befallen us. Actually we didn’t wonder, we knew that boy oh boy we were in the right place at the right time today. We translated that message to include the bigger path we are on. As I anticipate my diaconate ordination, I am so sustained by my new dear friend, Irene, and hope never to forget las bendiciones from Kenneth, a gifted young boy.
Boy oh boy, if this isn’t a story about modern day mystics I don’t know what is!