The elderly woman praying a rosary in the front pew of church? Her daughter is married to Ernest Hemingway’s son.
The district judge who serves on the pastoral council? He was General Schwarzkopf’s driver during the first Iraq war.
The old cowboy at the feed store? He rode bulls with Chris LeDoux and is mentioned in one of the singer’s hit songs.
Maybe there is only six degrees of separation between everyone in the world! Yet, even more intriguing than that, is the truth expressed in the old adage: You never know who you’re talking to.
I recall a muscular man strolling the grounds of the parish festival. My first thought? Former convict. I later discovered that he teaches Tae Kwon-do, is married with six children and just returned from a mission trip to Thailand.
You just never know who you might be talking to. I recall meeting an elderly nun who received the United Nations Award for Refugee Service.
One of the job benefits in the life of a priest is meeting lots people and hearing lots of stories:
- the woman in the nursing home who painted the exquisite landscapes hanging above her bed
- the retired rancher whose passion is investigating bison jumps, wagon trails and cavalry camps
- the parish lector who hails from the same town where Poncho Villa was ambushed
- the clerk in the grocery store who feeds and bathes his disabled son
The list goes on. Sometimes, the stories unfold over time and grow richer with each installment. Such was the case with a blind man I’ll call Xavier.
When I first brought Holy Communion to Xavier’s house, I learned the names of his children, the ages of his grandchildren and the eating habits of his highly protective border collie. In subsequent visits, he shared stories from his life of shearing sheep before the blindness set in.
Each year, he and his crew traversed the high country from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the northern Rockies. He described the painted wagons of sheep herders and the personalities of particular mules in his pack train. He would shiver at the mention of the morning fog and his hands made zig-zag motions as he recounted the sharp angles of steep switchbacks. He spoke of storms, herds of elk and the songs of wiry men who wrestled sheep and bundled wool for a living.
Such were the stories of Xavier, an old man whose clouded eyes danced like David before the Ark of the Covenant.
I often wonder, Who am I to be privy to such tales so often?
Clearly, I value this aspect of my life as a priest, a lifetime assignment of serving as a field reporter in the vast and fascinating, dangerous and glorious Kingdom of God.