Parting the Veil

Catholic 365

There are times in our lives when the enormity of space that seemingly separates us from the other side of the river suddenly parts. It might only be an inch or two, just a glimpse of what lies ahead on our inevitable journey, or a dramatic full-scale drawing of the curtains revealing to some privileged soul, gifted with divine mapping coordinates, our exact destination after death.

Perhaps, it happens when we are confronted with a challenge and cued to a possibility, or comforted when we are in dire need of consolation because sometimes, if not most times, we do not possess the faith to move mountains, and we really don’t expect an answer at all.

I’ve written and maintained, witnessed to and sworn for many years, that there is no such thing as a coincidence.

I’m not talking about Probability Theory or randomness or chance. If you shuffle the deck enough times you’re going to get a royal flush. If you flip a coin continuously for an entire day you’re going to see tails ten times in a row.

And, I’m also not talking about luck. I don’t believe in luck either, good or bad. Or superstition, like stepping on a crack and breaking your mother’s back, or breaking a mirror and lamenting life for seven years, or burying a potato in the backyard to get rid of warts.

As far as serendipity is concerned, it doesn’t exist. The wit, who coined the term, Horace Walpole, back in 1754, was using a talisman to achieve favorable outcomes channeling circumspect spirits in order to produce “fortunate happenstance.” Although, I grant you, some events can happily be called a “pleasant surprise.” Like when you finally draw that royal flush.

“Godwinks” as in Rushnell’s bestseller When God Winks, are possible though not as probable as the author claims.

But, it wasn’t a “godwink” when my Uncle Jerry lay dying of cancer in the early fifties at the tender age of sixteen and witnessed heaven on earth. It was a “God-quake.” He was supposed to be in excruciating pain. He wasn’t. He didn’t swallow the morphine prescribed to him by his head-scratching doctors. He didn’t eat anything except for the Holy Eucharist. He had visions of heaven and couldn’t wait to get there. He said heaven was sort of like Hawaii, only much more so. But, he’d never been to Hawaii or any other tropical destination. This isn’t family legend and it’s not explicable medically or scientifically. It just happened.

He wasn’t lucky. He didn’t draw a pair of aces let alone a flush from the dark dealer Grim Reaper. He saw heaven and thought it was wonderful without the benefit of “connected causality.”

This defies reason. At least the expressed reasoning of Professor John Edensor Littlewood, of Cambridge University, the author of A Mathematician’s Miscellany (1953). The good professor is renowned for Littlewood’s Law, where someone is bound to have “an exceptional event” at the frequency of once-a-month. He was both an esteemed scholar and helped the British Army refine and reconfigure the trajectory of field artillery during the Great War.

As best as I can understand it, here’s his methodology: if a human being experiences one event per second during waking hours, then over the course of a month (or thereabouts) that person will have accumulated a million events. If one of those events is unusual, exceptional, unexplained, or seemingly miraculous (these are all my adjectives), then the frequency of a remarkable event is one-in-a-million per month. Ergo, the mysterious event is not supernatural at all; it’s only run of the mill.

Sorry, professor. This might indeed be serendipity (although I just said it didn’t exist). But it’s certainly not an explanation of the miraculous. It can’t even come close to define the visions of my Uncle Jerry.

No, when heavenly curtains part, it isn’t subtle. It’s a loud bell’s knell on Christmas Day.

Angels We Have Heard on High

I’ve never read the angel books which were popular a few years back. I didn’t have to. Since I was a kid I’ve believed in angels, especially Guardian Angels. And, yes, I’ve had a few encounters with my guardians. I’ve got two. Don’t ask me why. One’s a blond, the other a brunette. And, no, I haven’t had anything to drink.

It wasn’t that kind of dream either. It wasn’t a dream at all. But, that’s between me and the God who sent them. It also doesn’t square with Littlewood’s Law. No, the professor’s million-to-one once-a-month miracle is irrelevant in this judge’s court because that happened only once.

But, there were two occasions on two separate events (much longer than a second), where there was correspondence or a message that I have no qualms talking about.

The first was right before my father died. I was in a neighborhood bar having drinks with a friend after some public function we attended. It’s as striking in my memory now as if it just happened a moment ago.

After my buddy excuses himself to use the facilities, in walks this guy wearing a Dallas Cowboys hoodie and hat. Now, this was the age before hoodies and long before somebody would stroll into a local taproom within the sacred proximity of the Philadelphia Eagles sanctuary called Veteran’s Stadium adorned in anything but green. Unless you were looking for a shiner, sane people just didn’t do this. Even Chris Christie wouldn’t dare attempt such an irrational blunder anywhere near Philly’s football Mecca, Lincoln Financial Field, today.

The guy comes right up to me and says “How come you’re all dressed up?”

I was wearing a tweed coat and tie, because I was at some political function. But, my answer to him was that I just came from church. Why I said that and lied I don’t know.

“How can you believe in God?” he asked. “How is it that humans could have propagated from just Adam and Eve?”

I did have a couple of beers in me and one isn’t accustomed to theological questions from a Dallas Cowboys fan in a local bar. I hesitated, but then my Irish kicked in. “Listen, stranger, what religion were you brought up in?”

“I’m Jewish.”

“Well then, you should know better than to ask such a question wearing that ridiculous costume you have on,” I said, feeling intimidated, uncomfortable, and aware of a substantial increase in blood pressure; although then feeling fully vindicated and protected by the number of Eagles’ fans who surrounded me. “You should be proud of your faith, because if it weren’t for the Jews I wouldn’t have a Savior.

He smiled. “That’s a good answer,” he said.

The bartender came over and reluctantly asked the stranger what he’d like to have. “Nothing, thank you,” the Cowboys fan replied, much to the barkeep’s relief.

And then he looked at me, no – he captivated me with his dark eyes and suddenly sparked my soul. “In the near future, you will have to suffer something,” he said. “It has to do with your family. It’s going to hurt you badly. But, you will take consolation because you believe.”

With that, he left just as my friend came back from the men’s room. Upon questioning other patrons around me, no one remembered having seen him. Not the bartender, who I distinctly recall, asking him what he would like, nor the many occupants securely seated on the barstools next to me. Surely, they should have remembered. For God’s sake he was a Cowboys fan.

When my father died not long after this, I knew in my heart I was, not warned, but mercifully being prepared for his death. Because I remembered what the Cowboys fan said and it pierced my heart.

Was this just an example of the “Law of Truly Large Numbers” or Littlewood’s Law?

No, it wasn’t. Stuff from heaven does, now and again, not once a month mind you, descend down Jacob’s ladder and hits us over the head with a divine two-by-four, which even this Eagles diehard fan can comprehend.

The second visit was just as surprising. My wife and I were out having dinner. I was feeling pretty bad. The doctors didn’t know what was wrong, and, that’s in and of itself, distressing. When you are forced to fight something, especially in mortal combat, you like to know what that something is called. If you can put a name to it, then you can zero in on the target and start squeezing the trigger. It might kill you anyway, but at least you know what hit you.

I decided to get up from the table and grab a smoke. A young man who I bumped into, literally, in the men’s room ten minutes before was – well – waiting for me outside. I took note of him in the busy rest room not only because we physically made contact, but because of his shock of red hair, ruddy-freckled complexion, and bright baby blues. He reminded me of my father. What my dad might have looked like as a young man, say in his late teens.

“Do you believe that some of us can hear the voice of God?” he asked matter-of-factly.

I didn’t hesitate one second.

“Yeah,” I shrugged.

“Well, I just received a message and it was about you.”

This time I hesitated. It was a spine-tingling moment. I offered him a cigarette and he accepted. I took out my lighter and waited for the other shoe to drop.

“You have health problems,” he said. He didn’t say issues and I liked that.

“Yes. But the doctors don’t really know…”

“I know.”

I took a drag and exhaled slowly. It was a true pregnant pause. I raised my eyebrows in expectation.

He smiled. “It’ll be all right. I was told everything will be okay.”

I extended my hand and he took it warmly. It was not a flabby handshake. “What’s your name?”

“Mike,” he said, still smiling. He turned to leave.

“God bless you, Mike.”

“God bless you, too, George.”

“Hey, how did you know my name is George?” I asked with my head down, depositing my butt into the hole of the smoker’s station. There was no response. Mike just disappeared. There was still plenty of daylight.

Mike was just an average looking kid. Well, at my age, people under thirty all look like kids. But, there was nothing unusual at all about him except as I said he reminded me of my dad. He wore a tee shirt and blue jeans and sneakers. I don’t know if Mike and the guy with the Cowboys hat were angels, but they were definitely heaven sent.

The curtains were certainly parted. These were not coincidences. They can’t be explained by Littlewood’s Law. God didn’t wink, He shook.

This “veil of tears,” our little, secluded valley we call home, is only a step away from eternity. We are not separated by vast oceans from loved ones who have passed before us, but by a flimsy lace curtain that sometimes flutters on a breeze: a gentle, warm, tropical, Hawaiian-like puff of wind, where angels waft in and out on soft currents sometimes seen.

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