Giving Thanks

Eli Christman (Creative Commons)

One Sunday morning I didn’t hear my alarm go off.  It was supposed to wake me up long before I was scheduled to say the early Mass at the parish where I was living at the time.  Instead, for whatever reason, I woke up with only a few minutes before the start of Mass. I threw on some clothes, ran downstairs and down the hall into the sacristy, threw on some vestments, and made it in time for the beginning of Mass.  I felt lousy.  I didn’t know what was wrong exactly, but I knew something was terribly off.  Still, I made it through Mass, confessing to the congregation, “Trust me, it’s better I not preach today!”  Everyone left, probably thankful that we had at least fulfilled our Mass obligation.  I left the church and sacristy, crawled back upstairs to bed and fell asleep, and didn’t wake up until early afternoon.  I had a wedding scheduled that night at the newly renovated chapel at Holy Trinity in Georgetown.  It also happened to be New Year’s Eve.

I drove over to Trinity, and while I was walking into church, a couple I had never met before stopped to chat.   I remember asking them to say a prayer for me, since I still wasn’t feeling very well, but we had a wedding to attend, and, well, I needed all the help I could get.  The couple kindly said they’d pray and probably didn’t give it another thought.  I, however, never stopped praying as I made my way into the sacristy where I met the groom diligently waiting.  He looked great, all dressed up formal-like and surrounded by his friends.  Andrew, the groom, said to me, “Chuck, with all due respect you look terrible, are you alright?”  I said, “I feel really sick Andrew, but hopefully we’ll pull this off.”  I got the chapel set up, went back into the sacristy and got dressed in beautiful borrowed vestments from the chapel.  I asked someone to check on Kristen, the bride, and see if she was ready to begin.  Word came back that everyone was lined up and ready.  All the guys got lined up, and as we were starting to leave I turned and bolted into the bathroom where I threw up twice.  I walked over to the sink, threw water on my face, washed my mouth out, popped in a breath mint and came back out and met the guys at the door of the chapel.  As you can imagine, they were wide eyed and very concerned and asked if I was going to be able to do this.  I said to them, “Ya know what?  I feel strangely better, let’s roll.”  We walked out into the chapel, we met Kristin in front of the altar and I told Kristin she looked beautiful, which she did.

The readings were read, and then we sang an Alleluia and I read the Gospel.  As I was somewhere in the middle of preaching, all of a sudden I started to get light headed and dizzy, and I think I began to sway. Next thing I knew I was looking up into Kristin and Andrew’s faces.  They were staring down at me and asking again and again, “Father Chuck, are you alright?  Are you okay?  What can we do for you?”  I looked at them from my horizontal vantage point and said, “Kristin, it’s the weirdest thing, it’s as if we’re at your wedding!”  She said, “YOU ARE AT OUR WEDDING!” and then the horrible realization hit me that I had passed out cold at Kristin and Andrew’s wedding … and then I slowly began to realize that all eyes  in the chapel were on me.  Every last guest, every pair of eyes, every concerned look one could ever imagine … all looking at me.  UGH!  I felt badly that I was sick, felt badly that I had passed out, and felt really badly that at a wedding of all things, all eyes were on me and not on the beautiful bride and groom!  UGH!  They propped me up in a chair in front of the altar, and Kristin and Andrew gave their consent, made their intentions, and exchanged their vows.  After we all prayed the Lord’s Prayer together, extended the Sign of Peace to one another, and the bride and groom made their way down the aisle and out of the chapel on their way to the reception … person after person made their way over to me to help me in my moment of need.

Ironically I had married several other young couples who were attending this wedding.  These wonderful, recently-married couples helped me out of the chapel, into the sacristy, found my truck parked along one of the city streets, drove me home, stopped by 7-11 on the way and bought Gatorade and saltine crackers, helped me back into the rectory, and left me while they rejoined the wedding party to – I hope – party all night long.

Though my ego was bruised, and I was truly mortified about unwittingly drawing all this attention to myself, I was also grateful beyond words that in a true moment of need I was surrounded by many people who came to my aid.  When I think of being thankful, this story immediately comes to mind.  There is simply no way I could have taken care of myself that night.  I was sick with the flu and too stupid to know it; I needed help, and wonderful people took good care of me. (In retrospect, I still think I would have made the same decision to go to the wedding.   How could I abandon this couple when they needed me most?  I’d rather try to love and serve them and fail, than never try at all.)

During this month when we traditionally celebrate Thanksgiving, perhaps this blog entry will inspire you to remember someone you need to reach out to and thank.  Hopefully your story won’t be because you were sick and in need, but no doubt you know of someone in your life you can’t wait to thank.  One of my friends has an annual tradition where she tells ten people she is most thankful for each year.  For three years in a row I received a call from her, and then one year the calls stopped.  Our lives have gone in different directions, but I was no less touched by her thankfulness year after year. I imagine her thoughtful tradition has continued on to thank new people in her life.  What a lovely tradition.

Please let me take this moment to thank you for being in my life; and may we together be ever thankful for all God has given to us.

Peace friends,

Chuck

 (Author’s Note:  This was originally published November 7, 2009, on my previous blog, Straight from the Heart.)

 

3 Comments

  • Renee says:

    Wonderful story and beautful thoughts for the season. We hope you have a blessed Advent.

  • Bill says:

    Chuck, I think I read this in your previous blog also. I am especially thankful for your friendship and am excited that you are back to blogging. Write on, brother!

  • Rose says:

    Read and appreciated this on the old blog and so glad you repeated here. Last Sunday at the adult forum at St. AIdan’s we were given the challenge of writing down 100 things for which we are grateful – it was an interesting exercise; I didn’t have 100 then but it’s the type of thing you keep it close and as the weeks go by you find something each to add. Happy Thanksgiving.

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