The blessing of memory and of persons remembered

This morning I happened to open the link to the death notices today in hometown paper, the Daily Item, as I stood here in the morning sun in Garden City.  There is a particular shock to that moment when in that daily listing you find a set of letters, placed in a certain order, forming the name of someone you know and love.  And then that name, having been repeated in your mind, gives spontaneous birth to a world of memories, recalled moments, conversations and events shared.  It is all suddenly there again, at the very moment that – in terms of this world – it is being taken away.

This morning the name I saw there was Irene Alboth.  I followed the link and found her photo, the familiar face and smile that I have known since halfway through high school.  Mrs. A was effectively my first boss when I worked for her at ‘Wendy-K”, a kind of forebear of Walgreens or CVS.  Our store was in the shopping center on Union Street in Lynn, not far from Saint Joseph’s Church.

Irene was arguably the best boss I’ve ever had.  She taught you.  She put you to work.  She trusted you.  And more, she laughed with you.  She listened to you.  She cared about you.

And she was not only like this with me.  This was her way with everyone.  She was a good woman.

We were in touch throughout the intervening years.  A few moons after those Wendy-K days I was serving as a priest in the archdiocese of Boston.  Irene’s husband, Paul, died, and I was privileged to pray with his family at Saint Joseph’s Church and to lay him to rest.

Through the years – even when I was less in touch with Irene’s twin daughters whose contribution to my life it is not possible to put into words (!) – she and I saw one another.  She invited me to meals at her home.  I saw her at Bradlee’s during her working years there.  Cards came through the mail from her at important and timely moments in life, always signed “Mrs. A.”

I am reminded at her passing of the supreme importance for us of each connection we make with another person in life.  Every such linking is unique.  Each one forms, nourishes, and changes us in ways that we cannot adequately either plot or express in our living.  It is at moments of arrival, particularly the arrival at the doorway to the next world, that something of the magnificent gift of another human being begins to come into focus.

Later this day a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke came before my eyes for the first time.  Perhaps it may say something important tonight about human life, its vitality, and the beauty of the life of Irene Alboth too:

God Speaks To Each Of Us
God speaks to each of us before we are,
Before he’s formed us — then, in cloudy speech,
But only then, he speaks these words to each
And silently walks with us from the dark:

Driven by your senses, dare
To the edge of longing. Grow
Like a fire’s shadowcasting glare
Behind assembled things, so you can spread
Their shapes on me as clothes.
Don’t leave me bare.

Let it all happen to you: beauty and dread.
Simply go — no feeling is too much —
And only this way can we stay in touch.

Near here is the land
That they call Life.
You’ll know when you arrive
By how real it is.

Give me your hand.

Mrs. Irene Alboth
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