During my cancer journey, since May 25, 2009, there have been so many people who have done or said just the right thing at the right time to buoy my fighting spirit. One of those things happened a few days ago. I have waited to share this incredible story until it played out. It fully played out during our All Saints Feast Sunday at St. Matthews in-the-Pines Episcopal Church in Seale, Ala.
If you’re familiar with the Episcopal Church calendar, All Saints Day was November 1. We celebrated the day in a very interesting way this past Sunday. The Rev. Donna Gafford, our priest, challenged us all to come to church on Sunday and bring a story about our favorite saint. This saint could be a real saint, or it could be a favorite relative, a pet or a teacher from our past.
I am kind of a church curmudgeon in that I really don’t like to participate in church. I don’t want to do any kind of interpretive dance (Several years ago that happened at our church once. I’m not kidding.) I don’t like to try to stump the priest. (That has happened, too.) I want to go, hear a great sermon, sing some soul-stirring songs, pass the peace and go home. So, I had decided not to participate in the saint discussion.
Jill felt that I was being unreasonable and that I should reconsider my curmudgeonly stance. As you know, I’m still recovering from two back surgeries and food poisoning. Sunday, two weeks ago was the first time in many weeks that I had been to church. So, I was feeling disconnected and really didn’t want to do the saint thing.
Late in the day this past Friday, Jill handed me a package. I was involved in a payroll situation, so I dropped it on my desk without looking at who might have sent it. After I finished my task, I picked up the package and noticed that it was from an old friend, Kate Nerone. We worked together many years ago at Aflac and I have always had great respect for Kate’s sense of humor, her writing ability — and her legs.
Several years ago, Kate joined me for dinner at the old La Grotta restaurant in the basement of a condominium complex on Peachtree in Atlanta. There is a new version of the restaurant in the Holiday Inn Ravinia on the north end of the city. I like the old world feel of the old place, the mustachioed wait staff who speak very little English and their penchant for strong-arming diners into choosing Italian bottled mineral water over Atlanta tap water.
I had arrived early and was sipping on a drink when Kate strutted in, decked out in a low-cut black minidress, ridiculously high heels and fishnet stockings. She stopped the show that night. She has a habit of stopping shows when she walks into a room. I’ll just say that we got snappy, grade-A service that night. It was quite a lovely evening and it was fun to watch Florio trip over himself to serve us.
I ripped open the package. It contained a box, which I tossed onto my desk, and several sheets of paper. I read the sheets in order, because that is just the way I roll. The first sheet was a note from Kate. The other sheets were an Easter meditation she had written a few years ago for her former sister-in-law Amy Nerone, who puts together the meditations each year for the Chattahoochee Valley Episcopal Ministries, an outreach arm of the local Episcopal parishes.
She also included a riveting poem, which her friend Hope Winsborough shared with her. Here’s where the story gets really interesting: Kate mentioned that there was a box in the package. It contained, she said, a St. Michael medal, which her husband carried as a paratrooper in Baghdad, Iraq. She said that it had protected him and that now she wanted me to have it. The medal was being repurposed to protect me from cancer.
By the way, St. Michael is the patron saint of paratroopers, firemen, policemen, drunkards and fools. You all know I don’t wear a uniform or a badge, but I’m glad I made the cut! Jill walked into my office and said, “What did Kate send you?” I held up the medal, which was then and now attached to my car key. She got that wry smile and said, “Well, there’s your saint!”
Fast forward to Sunday. I walked into church with the poem in hand and the St. Michael medal in pocket. When Donna described how we were going to substitute the saint discussions for the sermon, I asked if I could go first. Selfishly, I knew my story was going to blow everyone else out of the water and I wanted the shock and awe effect of a great story to kick off the festivities.
The time came and I went up to the lecturn and delivered my story. I read Kate’s favorite poem and I told our parish about why I was the new owner of the medal. Needless to say, the story killed! The fact that this wonderful story dropped into my lap just over 24 hours from the time I needed it is just so cool.
The icing on the cake was that Karen Rankin’s favorite saint was me! She delivered a tearful thank you to me for being an important part of their life here in Seale. This service that I was dead set against participating in, turned out to be an amazing love fest with sweet sentiments, great food and fellowship under the pines in our little church. This is exactly why I love our church. It is casual, warm and friendly. I leave there each week feeling great and uplifted and during the summer, I get to wear shorts. How cool is that?