Discovering Detroitians

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Until earlier this week, I had never been to Detroit, Michigan. For a lot of folks, that statement would make a perfect set-up for a one-liner about this convalescing metropolis, but I will refrain. The truth is, I quite enjoyed myself (east-side urban blight and I-75 south closed for miles notwithstanding). My husband and I traveled to this struggling city to visit the Fr. Solanus Casey Center (that’s where I am, in the photo above), which is on Mt. Elliott Ave. When we arrived late Sunday afternoon, the Fr. Solanus Center (aka, St. Bonaventure Monastery, of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin) was closed for the day. We had little to do but try to locate a place to stay for the night, and grab some supper. Finding ourselves practically at ground zero of the Detroit blight, but also of a frugal mindset, we looked up a few cheap hotels/motels that seemed to be located in a slightly recovered part of town. We said a prayer, charted a course, and headed to Gratiot Ave. Driving up Mt. Elliott on the way to Gratiot, we saw some of the sad remains of the Heidelberg Project. I had never heard of this monumental artistic/educational endeavor before, but my husband knew about it and had researched it. Sadly, I have a feeling that we missed the heyday by several years. As we continued up Elliott, onto Gratiot, then turned left on Van Dyke St., we witnessed the signs of death and decay of neighborhood after neighborhood. Our sight-seeing drive led us through a ghost town of houses in disrepair, many gutted and covered with graffiti, some the charred remains of arson; open lots with piles of rubble from houses that had fallen down; neglected weeds and bushes taking over sidewalks and buildings; and boarded-up windows of shuttered businesses. It was heart-breaking and hard to believe. I had heard of the Detroit blight, and seen a few pictures now and again, but I had no idea of the widespread destruction of neighborhoods. Seeing it in person made me sad.

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As signs of life began to reappear, we started looking for a Red Roof Inn we had researched. A quick drive through the parking lot alerted us to the shakiness of that option. We headed to a nearby Victory Inn. At the front desk, we met a very nice young man. I will not mention his name, but he was extremely polite and helpful and he bent over backwards to make us feel comfortable and find the perfect room. We chatted with him for quite some time, and come to find out, he is 19 years old, and has only been in the U.S. since his early teens. His entire family, after several attempts to flee a very dangerous situation in a Middle East country, had finally ended up as refugees in Detroit. I (figuratively) wrapped my arms around this young man (who is now, btw, a U. S. citizen), and am praying for him daily. I hope that he finds success and joy (and, a supportive faith community) in his “new” life in America. I left him with my email address, so that, just in case he ever makes it to Cincinnati, he can get in touch with us, even stay with us, if he likes. I sincerely hope to see him again someday!

After getting settled, we walked to a nearby Bob Evans, that (based on the size of the supper crowd) seems on the brink of shutting down. Our server there was a young man named Tuesday. Yes…that was really his name. I said to him, “You should be working at Ruby Tuesdays!” A big smile spread across his face, and he replied, “No one has ever thought of that before….that is a great idea!” From there, things just got better. I pointed out the picture on the wall, of the Bob Evans Farm in Rio Grande, Ohio, and told him we had been there a few times, and that I had actually won the hog-calling contest once, at the farm festivals they used to host. He was very impressed. He kept returning to our table to chat and I fell in love with him, too. That kind, hospitable, hard-working young man/husband/father is going places, if he can chart a steady course, and meet someone who can offer him a good opportunity. He’s also been added to my daily prayer list. My husband and I walked back to our hotel, feeling blessed and encouraged by our “chance” (i.e., Holy Spirit orchestrated) encounters with these young men. Little did we know, our day’s journey was not yet complete.

Back in our room, we perused the Detroit tourism magazines, which are standard fare in guest rooms. I have a fondness for microbreweries, and my husband noticed an ad for a place not too far from us, Kuhnhenn Brewing Co. It closed at 10:00pm on Sundays, and it was now 9:00. If we hurried, we might make it in time for a brewsky. Using our handy-dandy, vintage road map once again, we made it to the pub by 9:30. We ordered a flight of five brews (my favorite being a Scottish ale called, “A Few Shillings Too Many”), and began to chat with the one other patron and the server. We informed them that we were in town to visit the Fr. Solanus Center, which required (as usual) a retelling of my Fr. Casey “story” (if you haven’t yet, read last week’s post!). In our continuing bar patron palaver, we mentioned our 35th anniversary the following day, and the fact that I was a breast cancer survivor, 9 years out now. The reaction to that news brought to our attention another (previously undetected) patron at the opposite end of the bar, who then applauded me, and asked me how it had changed my life. I gave him the abridged version of growing in faith, learning to appreciate the little things, and eating healthier. By this point, the servers were locking up, so we asked for our bill. We noticed an interaction between our server and the man at the end of the bar, and after a few minutes, our waitress came back with our bill, announcing that we had received a 50% out-of-towners discount. My husband and I looked at each other and smiled. Another little gift, dropped in our laps, simply because people were noticing our joy and kindness, and were reacting in kind. Uplifted and grateful, we returned, once again, to our night’s lodgings. We set our alarms for early the next morning and dove into bed with the anticipation of tomorrow’s visit to the tomb of Fr. Solanus Casey….which is a “whole-nother” story in itself, and makes this tale a “to be continued” enterprise. Make a note on your calendar to visit with me again next week, to enjoy the rest of this entertaining travel saga!

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Embracing a Miracle

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“Miracles are a retelling, in small letters, of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.” (C.S. Lewis, 1898 –1963)

A truly miraculous event has become part of my life’s story, and I am positively giddy with joy and gratitude. I will attempt to set the scene of this glorious event for you… Imagine that your daily life is in precarious balance – a homeostasis of health, basic functioning, conscientious eating, caring for your elderly father – all of these things hang on a single thread, and one slight tip of the scales, one way or the other, brings your life to a relative standstill, filled with pain and fear and difficulty and despair. All of your usual problem-solving techniques are thrown out the window, and new ways of functioning must be discovered (through arduous trial and error). Some of the more time-consuming, painful, or inconvenient activities, like…for example, let’s say….eating and showering, are simply tossed over the side of your floundering ship of day-to-day survival. Can you imagine such a scenario? Don’t feel too bad if you can’t quite grasp the thought. I wouldn’t have been able to either, until I went to work for a client with SMA (spinal muscular atrophy), and began to see how difficult “ordinary” tasks can be if your muscles aren’t working all that well, and if your bones are so frail (from years spent in a wheelchair) that a tiny bump can cause a life-changing fracture, and how all of this makes your life extremely vulnerable to chaos. That is exactly what happened to my client.

She is a very positive person, one of the most “sunny-sided” people I’ve ever met, and problem-solving is her forte. Most of the equipment she uses for her daily survival (lift system, wheelchair, bathroom chair, etc) owes at least part of its design to her. Anything else she uses, if she didn’t design it, she at least found out about it (and made adaptations to it) through her relentless research to make her life’s vocation more doable. However, difficulties do sometimes rear their ugly heads, and, for these past few months, we seem to have entered into a plague of misfortune. It climaxed (or, so we thought, at the time) with a serious case of the flu, which landed my client (and her 87 year old father) in the hospital. Just when things were beginning to settle back to normal, there was another minor issue that brought her to the emergency room, and (eight hours later), sent her home with a broken arm. This was a blow we could not have anticipated, and one for which we were totally unprepared. Everything that her caregivers/assistants had been doing for her for years, the practiced and perfected routine, was suddenly useless, and had to be reinvented. I know that I struggled tremendously with the broken routine. All of the steps of helping her up and out of bed each day were suddenly a murky mess in my brain, as my client & I tried to figure out ways to move her without causing excruciating pain. We all muddled through as best as we could, using new ideas and extra “tools” to help with moving, transferring, propping, etc. The plan was to help her navigate (as smoothly as possible) through the two weeks until she could see the orthopedic surgeon, and go from there.

Unfortunately, the tangled web was woven even more intricately than we knew. The visit to the orthopedic doc delivered the knock-out punch of devastating news – the only way the bone could be “healed” was through surgery, and the use of plates, screws, and heaven only knows what else. My client (who had been trusting that our diligent efforts to keep her arm stabilized would aid in its own natural healing efforts) was crushed by this news. The x-rays were telling, showing the two ends of the broken bone overlapping, with no chance of a healing formation taking place. Things got dark and dreary after that day. The pain became relentless, and my client’s desire to avoid the overuse of pain medication made it impossible to do anything without the grimace of pain coming to her face as we touched her. It was agonizing for her, and draining and stressful for all of her caregivers. We could not see an end to the story, and, if we tried too hard to look ahead, our thoughts led us in an unhappy direction.

It was then that the genuinely fervent prayer began. I sent out prayer requests and updates through our local Catholic homeschooling community, and kept all of my close friends informed of her condition. People assured me of their ongoing prayers, and I asked that they especially call on the intercession of Fr. Solanus Casey, who is one of my favorite, heavenly intercessors! I carried on faithfully with my client’s care, while the cloud of adversity hung heavily over us. She began the arduous task of appointments with various doctors (anesthesiologist, neurologist, etc) to determine if she was even a candidate for surgery.

Then came, for me, the pleasant surprise of hearing, while on my way to work one morning, that Fr. Casey was slated for beatification in the fall (this means that a legitimate, miraculous healing, through his intercession, had been approved, and he is now further along the path to being canonized). I was so happy with that news, since I have loved Fr. Casey for a long time, and have been praying for him to become a “Blessed” (and then, a confirmed “Saint!”). My mother was a Casey, so I figure that Fr. Casey and I MUST be related somehow! I continued my drive to work with tears in my eyes and cries of joy and congratulations on my lips, and then I said, ”Fr. Casey, how about a miracle cure for my client? If anyone could use a miracle, it’s her, so let’s show her what love and prayer support can accomplish! If it is God’s will to be powerfully manifested in her life, beg God for a miracle, Fr. Casey. I know you can make it happen!” And, can you even guess what happened?! The very next day, at her follow-up appointment with the orthopedist, the x-rays showed the two pieces of the bone in perfect alignment, with a healing callus forming around it. How do you explain that? The doc had said there was no chance of it healing on it’s own….but it DID. It is, quite simply, a beautiful and glorious and life-giving (in oh, so many ways) miracle! My client and I (and her family and the other caregivers) are not the only ones giddy with joy and happiness and astonishment. There are a lot of people being brought to tears by the news of this miraculous intervention, and I can see God’s mighty hand moving in a powerful way. I am hoping that the child-like joy never fades, and the knowledge of God’s all-consuming love stays with us forever, because I have a feeling that’s the most miraculous part of all of this. God steps in, sometimes doing what we long for, oftentimes not, but always, in every situation, in every response, he manifests his love for us, and that is, truly, the greatest miracle of all, and the only one we’ll ever need. May we all be like C. S. Lewis, and learn to read the “small letters” written in our lives every day. And, pray for all of us, Venerable (soon-to-be Blessed!) Solanus Casey!