Part II: Higgins Beach
When I got the beach house I was greeted at the door by my good friend Mike and his 3-year old daughter Hannah. Mike and I could tell she wasn't too sure about this stranger who was showing up close to her bedtime. Mike explained that I was "daddy's friend" named Bishop Thomas. She, of course, needed to test this relationship, so she held out her toy bunny rabbit to me. Naturally, I gave the bunny a hug, but as I went to give it back to her she corrected me: "He needs a kiss, too!" So I gave the toy a peck on the nose, and she was happy. Little did I know that this would be the start of a lovely friendship. Hannah, in short, just *loved* Bishop Thomas. She wanted to sit next to me at meals, and regularly wanted me to read her stories. Her two older sisters were also present in the house, as well as kids from other visiting families. It was really nice to be part of the family, and happily the kids were able to keep themselves pretty well entertained. I should add that Mike's parents were also there, and were absolutely great hosts (with amazing food!)
Mike and Ellie were kind to offer me the use of the attic bedroom, which was just lovely. I felt like I had a personal retreat centre in the middle of a family home, with a view overlooking the beach and, further on, the ocean. Sunday morning we had mass at a nearby parish, and then I got busy doing... nothing. Well, not quite. Personal prayer was a big part of this time off. In addition to the Liturgy of the Hours I went on prayer walks along the beach and through the neighbourhood, rosary beads in hand. I also made it for mass at the local parish each day, where the pastor and his assistant (and indeed, all the people I met) were warm in their welcome.
A lovely family I got to know, with a connection to Montreal!
Spiritual reading was also a big part of my time. Some months before I had read the Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena, but it was a library copy so I wasn't to mark it up with pencil and write notes in the margin like I usually do to really appropriate a book and its contents. Since then, however, I had bought my own copy, and my goal was simply to re-read it and see what I might get out of it a second time. I have to say, I was not disappointed. Wow, this woman was true genius of the spiritual life, tackling deep issues like heaven, hell, joy, and pain. It is not an easy read, not because the language is tough, but because it is so deep.
I was looking forward to a week of this, reading, praying, and relaxing in the company of good friends. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Tuesday night (Aug 22), three days after arriving, I got a message from my brother Chris, so I gave him a call. It was among the worst news possible: he had just been diagnosed that day with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), otherwise known as Lou Gehrig's disease. We spoke a bit, and then I hung up the phone, wondering what I should do next.