Florida was a long way from Chicago. He hoped he was making the right move.
Life had put me in plenty of challenging situations. I served in Vietnam, spent 29 years as a cop in Chicago. But nothing scared me as much as what I faced now: starting over again at age 65.
After 40 years together and raising five sons, my marriage had ended. I even built the addition on this house where we’d lived for decades. Now my wife was gone, my children grown, my house sold. I felt like I’d lost everything.
I packed up the few items I would take with me to my new home in Florida. Mostly pictures. I took them out to the car, resting them on the roof while I wrapped them one by one in blankets before loading them in the trunk.
I was extra careful carrying out the last two. One was a framed image of the Blessed Mother Mary that I found especially comforting. My cousin Margaret had sent it with a sweet letter I’d taped to the back of the frame.
The other treasure was a large frame filled with baby pictures–my sons, their wives and various other family members. I wouldn’t have parted with it for the world. When I finished packing the car I got in and drove to the last daily Mass I’d enjoy at my Chicago church.
I need my faith more than ever, I thought. Soon I would be leaving almost everything else behind.
The following morning I’d get into the car and start the drive down to Florida. I’d purchased a house in a retirement community called The Villages. It was a long way from Chicago, but at least I had a sister and brother-in-law in Florida.
God, I need you on this journey, I prayed as I left the church to spend my last hours at the house.
That night I slept fitfully. By 8:00 A.M. I was dressed and ready to hit the road. I took one last walk through the house and heard the doorbell ring.
I opened the door. “Hello,” the woman said. “My name is Carmel. I see you every morning at Mass, but I usually sit in the back, so you might not have noticed me.”
“Sorry we didn’t meet sooner,” I said. “I’m moving out of state today.”
“Thank goodness I caught you!” she said, handing me a brown-paper package. “Open it.”
I tore off the paper to reveal a framed image of the Virgin Mary. I wondered why this fellow churchgoer I’d never met was giving me a gift. “This is lovely,” I said. “But believe it or not, I have one just like it packed up in my car.”
“Turn it over,” the woman said. There, taped to the back of the frame, was Margaret’s letter, still in the envelope she’d addressed to me.
“Where did you get this?”
“I was driving down the street yesterday when I noticed it leaning against a lamppost,” Carmel said. “I stopped my car to investigate. When I got closer I saw that the frame was broken, and that there was another picture behind it.”
Carmel handed me a second brown-paper package–my framed baby pictures! I remembered carefully wrapping both up to put in the trunk. How could Carmel have found them on the street?
Then I realized: “I must have forgotten them on the roof of my car!” I said. “They flew off when I drove to Mass.” I had been so upset and distracted lately.
“The only thing that doesn’t make sense,” I said, “is who propped them up against that lamppost?”
“That’s what made me stop,” Carmel said. “They were so neatly placed that I couldn’t pass them by. I bought new frames for them and was going to return them to you at today’s Mass, but as soon as I woke up this morning I knew I had to drive to your house right away.”