I had to attend a religious conference yesterday (for youth and youth leaders), and arrived before others in my group, so just found a spot and waited. A man came and sat near me, and I did a double-take.
He clearly had not recognized me, so for a moment, I considered just walking away for by then I saw a couple people from my group seating themselves in another area. I wondered why I wanted to run, and then I realized it was my deep sense of shame, IF this was who I thought he was. But I also recognized that if the identity was a match, then this was something orchestrated by God, so I sent up a prayer to help because I didn't have the courage to open the door.
And as you know, reconciliations are God's very dear specialty. I knew that this was a prayer that He would answer.
At the beginning of the conference, they directed us to introduce ourselves to five strangers around us. (I don't mind this kind of thing outside of Mass.) Perfect. The man turned to me and gave me his first name and the town he was from. It was my hometown, and then, I knew....without a doubt. I thought my heart would come through my throat and think I might actually have stopped breathing as I walked through the open door.
It was him!
He looked at me a moment, attention caught at being called "Dad", and then it dawned on him as he really LOOKED at me. For the first time in...YEARS.
I'm crying as I'm writing this...it was such a joyful reunion. There were some people from his town near us, and during a break and some small group sessions with them, he was telling them about our reunion, exclaiming, "She used to live in our house!"
Later when he joined my group for lunch, he told me co-workers and catechists who were at the same table, with tears in his eyes, "Thanks for hiring her...if you hadn't, I wouldn't have seen my little girl again."
You may be asking yourself right now who this man was in my life, for my regular readers realize that my Dad passed away 14 years ago. So no, he wasn't really my Dad. Not by blood.
This man's daughter was my best friend in Jr. High and High School. We actually attended different schools, but outside of those walls, we were inseparable. And when my Mom suffered the most from her bipolar and was hospitalized, I stayed with them. Senior year, when I had to get out of the house because Mom was out of control, it was to their home that I fled. They were my second family.
I would have been lost without them.
I've also since learned that they paid our rent for a few months when Mom was finally hospitalized and then sent to a half-way house, giving us time to get moved out when we all realized Mom would not be moving back there.
When I left my hometown, I literally fled, and only saw my "adopted" family a couple times in college. I did see my friend back in 2000 at one point, but as our lives diverged, so did our friendship. And I've always felt guilty for not keeping in touch. Yes, there were times, and I still remember our last phone call sometime in 2001. The friendship was...dead. We were nothing but acquaintances anymore.
I think it was because I have been so ashamed. When I left town, I had big dreams, like any kid, and when I finally had my chance, I flopped. Because my entire identity was built on the sandcastle of a failed career, I think I associated the love I'd always received from others as connected to what I could do...not who I really was.
For years, I have wanted to get in touch with these families that helped us through our years of horror, but I haven't been able to bring myself to just write a letter out of the blue, or even call. Maybe they'd forgotten me...I didn't know. Maybe they were glad I was gone. I didn't know. Maybe they'd be angry that I'd "forgotten" them. I didn't know. Now it's been more than fifteen years since I last saw him...and now, I know that all my fears were just ghosts.
Yesterday, God brought me face to face with my past and laid all my doubts to rest. And I could finally thank my "second dad" for what he did for me so many years ago.
I am the prodigal daughter, finally reunited with one of the people who helped me to be who I am today.
Thank you, Jesus.