Praying during loss is a natural thing to do. Father Lawrence Biskner, top left, recites the rosary with parents of missing children, joined by a nurse, at the Cook County Morgue, Chicago, following the Our Lady of Angels School fire, December 1, 1958, that killed 92 children and three nuns. Photo presented by Our Lady of the Angels Fire Memorial.
Have you ever meet someone, who, on later reflection, was so perfectly dropped in your life at exactly the right time that you seriously entertain the idea that they might have been an angel?
Praying during loss is a natural thing to do. Father Lawrence Biskner, did just that in the photo at the top of this post. (Photo has disappeared from online, but I found it and got smart and downloaded it this time, along with the print beneath the photo.)
I’m a polydiest, not a christian. But I have seriously entertained that thought.
My “angel” was an old-man nerd; of all things, a catholic priest, who dropped unexpectedly into my life one day.
Sometime between 1976 and 1977, Chicago had a record-breaking blizzard that lasted weeks. People died in that storm. When I looked around for information about it online, I found this: “The 43-day long cold snap lasted from December 28th, 1976 through February 8th, 1977 setting the all-time record for the longest period of below freezing temperatures to occur in Chicago.” I seem to believe that’s what happened to Father Larry Biskner, since I called one time and he was sick with pneumonia and told me about the storm, then after that, I called and wrote and he never answered again.
Father Larry was an unimposing man with a classic nerd physiological layout. He was skinny, had buck teeth, and wore horn-rimmed glasses. He even had allergies. When talking with him one on one, he brought out the emotional/sensitive side of me that had gone missing for all of my teen years.
That side of me had good reason to hide. There is very little evil that can be imagined that did NOT occur in my family of origin. Therefore, all of it remained a deep, dark secret. Until Father Larry strolled into my life, sneezing and smiling. No one else had ever heard what happened to me inside my family. Ever. Father Larry was often overwhelmed when I was “sharing” with him, and would ask me to pause a moment. In those moments, after all the nose blowing and all four eyes wiped well (all of them belonging to Father Larry), he would take my hand and cradle it in his two hands (that nerdy touch was the SAFEST touch I ever experienced). He would look at me until I returned the gaze. Then, he’d tilt his head, the tears fresh again on his face, and he would say “There is nothing wrong with you!” Then, through the tears, he’d give me a huge, warm smile.
He was so kind, so gentle, and exceedingly trustworthy the entire time I knew him; and, considering the experiences I’d had with adults up to that time, I assumed he MUST be an angel. He did have white hair. He was in his early 70’s so he had earned it, he didn’t purchase it.
I worried that my secrets were somehow permanently harming him because he often wept when I told him things I couldn’t figure out, the ‘why’s’ of my life. I even voiced my worries and he would tell me again and again: “You are one of the purest and most honest people I’ve met. You are not intending me harm.” Then he’d look over the top of those horn rimmed glasses and add, slightly louder and very confident, “Neither are you harming me.”
At 47 years old, I finally understand his message.
He was disappointed in one respect in his life: he didn’t have a family. He was, after all, a Roman Catholic priest. So he saw many generations and sub-generations go by. Then he met me, and after a short time, exclaimed how he wished I would be his grand-daughter. I accepted immediately as I had never known my grandfathers; one died before I was born and the other, shortly thereafter.
He came up with the idea of taped letters. I agreed. We “wrote” by tape for many moons. When he suddenly didn’t return my “letter” and didn’t answer a message I left at least twice for him to call back, I thought, again, I had harmed him. Back then, I was still struggling to understand how on earth I could be not harming him, if nothing else, by my mere presence in his life. That’s how damaged I was.
It took 30 years to shed the cursed skin of the perpetrators who stole my innocence, invading my body and even kidnapping my soul, holding it for ransom. They said, these perpetrators, that I could have my soul to do with as I pleased only if I agreed and fully understood that it would cost me the rest of eternity in hell. I agreed to these terms at age 17 and took my soul back into my own keeping.
Damaging accident of nature, my perpetrators were: all 3 of them. There were 4 in my family including me during this time. The fifth one left home so early I have few recollections of his presence there.
How could I know then that there were exceptions to every rule … even in nature?
In my family, we were in a separate world. More so, after I was age 11, but always, to some degree. Not only were we told to never speak of what happened “inside these 4 walls”, we didn’t have any information coming in from the outside either, except that which was purposefully transported in by the 2 adult perps. No wonder I loved school. They couldn’t entirely control what I learned both in the classroom and on the playground, though they did intervene at times, and one time threatened the job of my favorite English teacher, who had a wife and 9 children depending on him, because a film had brought up some “issues” my family would not deal with. He didn’t lose his job, but someone had to pay, and that someone ended up being me. I suffered through, glad to save the only income of a family of eleven.
Rather than continue in lengthy detail, let me just say: I was raised in a cult with only 4 members: my birth family. The damage was slightly intensified by the fact that there was never outside intervention. Not even to this day. So, I had been taught to disbelieve what I saw, heard, felt, smelt, touched and most importantly, experienced. To completely and totally disbelieve my self.
It was 12 years of hard work before my shell finally cracked: painfully. Then the long healing began. After 17 more years of hard work and healing, I finally understand: Father Larry saw me clearly. He wept, because he saw the damage that was done to me, and my survivor’s guilt.
I am, actually, a very good human being. I am kind, truthful, loyal, intelligent, inquisitive, willing to consider, learn more, then embrace changing my mind.
Those are my most cherished moments: when I see something clearly enough I change my mind completely. I certainly changed my mind about what effect I had on Father Larry. I think I was the “blessing” in his life he so often said I was, strange as it still seems to me.
That is what was missing in my birth family: the ability to see that a viewpoint, thought, or belief MIGHT be wrong, and a willingness to be open to change.
Never take the freedom to change your mind for granted: it is a precious, and often, healing gift.
After more time, more healing and more searching, I am now a believer in Christ Jesus. At this time I do not attend a church, as I see that as something that will only distract from all I need to walk as a Christian: The Holy Bible, and a few trusted friends who are walking the same path. I always have that balance point if possible in life, those I can check in with to make sure I have not gone right off the road. I’m grateful to them all. Including, and most especially, the first honest Christian I met: Fr. Larry Biskner.