Amazing Grace by John P. Gavin

When John went back home to get me clean clothes after my accident, he gathered my things and sat outside for a few moments. He told me he was so proud of me and how gracefully I handled the situation and that he sang, “Amazing Grace” for me.

That is how he came to the title of this post.

Amazing Grace

When I was 10, my Aunt came to live with us.

That may not seem like a big deal; but since my family is from Ireland, it meant she had to travel about five thousand miles to do so.

The reason she came out was because Mom was having a baby; and since Mom already had three kids and Dad was, well, Dad, she was going to need some assistance with my new sister. So Aunt Bridget came to live with us and help out for about a year or so.

I already knew Bridget, but only in the way you know relatives you have traveled to see every few years. I knew she was a vibrant woman who loved music and telling a good story and who had traveled a bit and who wasn’t married, but that was about it.

When Bridget came to California, not just my family but also my world, increased in size. For a child of immigrants, with no other family around, the world is a big place anyway. The people you are related to are an infinitesimally small fraction of the life you’re trying to figure out when you are 10. And when Bridget came, I felt I had one more person on my side.

She turned out to be a wonderful woman.

She had lived in New York for a while and would tell us stories of the big city. While there, she was a waitress at a fancy restaurant and told us of the rich and famous people who would come there to eat. She said she once served someone who was so rich he left her a hundred-dollar tip. That was almost unfathomable to me. I had never even seen a hundred dollars all in one place, and yet someone had given that to her when they could just as well have left a twenty.

The things Bridget knew about life were fascinating, not simply because she knew of them, but because she had lived them.

It made me think that if family could do it maybe I could too, which is a powerful idea for a kid who is 10.

When you are 10, you see the world as this gargantuan monolith that is going to do things to you, not the other way around. But Bridget had made her world what she wanted it to be, which started me thinking that maybe someday I could too.

After that year was up and Aunt Bridget left, I was sad to see her go; but I was satisfied with the knowledge that I would see her again.

I continued to travel to Ireland every few years; and when I did, I always went and stayed with her. After that, we had a special sort of bond. We lived under the same roof long enough that we knew each other. She knew my quirks and I hers, and we loved each other anyway.

John in front of Bridget’s house in Ireland in 2013

After that, going to Ireland was a homecoming; and that is kind of a funny thing.

You see, I had always lived in a space between two worlds. There was America, where people talked like I did, but somehow didn’t seem all that much like me. And there was Ireland, where people were eerily like me, yet didn’t talk like me at all.

Because of Bridget, Ireland felt a bit more like home, maybe not like California felt, but close; and I will always be thankful to her for that.

Bridget and Connor 2006

This column runs on Sundays; and though I’m a confirmed procrastinator, I do not write it Saturday night. I usually write it on Wednesday or Thursday. Today is Thursday, Feb. 14, which is notable because it is Valentine’s Day.

It is also notable for another reason: It is the day after Bridget died.

She died peacefully yesterday morning, Feb. 13, in Ireland, with my mom and my sister Colleen at her side. Colleen called to tell me that she was gone. I didn’t have the heart to tell Colleen I had some news for her as well; so, I held my tongue.

Actually, I didn’t yet have the news for her at that point.

Here is what I mean: About an hour after Sis called to say that Bridget was gone, I told my girlfriend I wanted to take her for a drive. That is not exceptional because we go for drives all the time. We both seem to have become travelers by nature and are always leaving for somewhere.

But the destination this time was like no other we have traveled to.

Loretta and I got in our car, and I drove off down the road. I made a turn onto a road we hadn’t been down before. It was steep and had some twisty turns on it, but nothing we couldn’t handle.

Before long, we came to the end of it where I had seen a lake on the map. Between the road and the lake, we encountered a sign that warned us against trespassing; but we just ducked under the fence where it hung and continued our journey.

As we climbed the trail to the lake, we could see the water was a brilliant shade of azure blue. We walked along the shore for a minute and came to an outcropping of rocks that almost looked like a small natural pedestal. I put Loretta up on the pedestal and told her that I loved her. She said she loved me too. I asked her if she’d like to spend our lives together. She said that yes, she would.

So I asked her then and there if she would marry me.

I think I caught her by surprise a bit; but after some teary smiles, she made it quite clear that we would be spending the rest of our lives as husband and wife.

She then reminded me that exactly one year ago on February 13, 2012, I had told her in no uncertain terms that I could not ever see us being in a relationship together; and I told her that was why I picked this date to ask her to be my wife.

Now that date would mean a different thing.

It is amazing to me that not only do lives have a start and an end; but within them, they seem to have continuous beginnings and endings. Yesterday, halfway around the world, there was a peaceful ending.

And just down the road there was a lovely beginning.

Reader Comments

  1. Anonymous

    You have me thinking, life has a beginning and an ending. Then there are a bunch of beginnings and endings in between. I never thought of it this way before. A wonderful perspective.

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