Tonight as we were sitting with the children and showing them our wedding album and discussing the events of 18 years ago today, we came to the picture that was never taken, the one I’m so sorry was missed, the one of the angel sent to remind Regina and me of our mission as a married couple. The angle’s name was Dottie, and she was a familiar fixture in the Staten Island Ferry Terminal.
She was homeless, and as is so often the case, weathered and aged beyond her years. How she came to be there at Saint Vincent Ferrer in New York, I cannot say–save for the direction of the Holy Spirit.
Regina and I put a great deal into the Mass: the music, the musicians, the readings, the three priests and deacon who were so close to us, our family and friends’ participation. We spent more time on the Mass than the rest of the day’s events, by far. It was glorious.
Then after Mass, as we were halfway down that very long aisle, past most of our family and friends, it happened.
Dottie appeared out of nowhere, directly in front of us.
She grabbed my arm and told me how beautiful Regina looked, how beautiful we looked, how happy she was for us both, how our wedding was the most beautiful she ever attended. Then she inclined forward to kiss me. And so we did. In a long intimate moment in the aisle she kept assuring us that we had God’s very special blessing and that we would have a good marriage. Regina and I took it in stride, and actually enjoyed the warmth and spontaneity of the moment. After working with homeless youth for seven years, it was as natural as walking.
Then, a friend leaned out and ushered her into the pew with him, and we were off to the steps for photos. Dottie stayed out front, waving at us in the limo. I never saw her again.
Eighteen years have presented us with a great many challenges. Making two into one has had its better moments, and some we’d rather forget. But just as Jesus came to the rescue at Cana, He has made us new many times over, each time perfecting in us some element of ourselves that needed the covenantal love of marriage and its attendant graces in order to grow.
With our son’s autism came a whole new dimension of vocation as a married couple. Though Regina as a pediatric nurse, and I in ministry to the homeless worked at our pro-life convictions, Joseph’s autism would open entirely new vistas in working within the movement to rebuild a Culture of Life and a Civilization of Love. The plight of the handicapped, the abortions of 93% of all Down Syndrome children have become very personal. It has seasoned us both for dedicating our marriage to furthering the Gospel of Life, for advocating for the poor and the least among us.
Dottie’s apparition in the aisle was no mere fluke. It was a prophetic call to a young newly married couple. The beauty of the radiant bride that gently received the loving wishes of the weathered old woman without a home; uninvited, yet warmly and lovingly received. It has become the metaphor for our marriage, replete with the many who laughed with scorn at the moment–missing its import and beauty.
I think of Dottie whenever we take out the wedding album. I’ll never forget her face, her voice, that moment in the aisle. She was the first to greet us as a newly married couple, to kiss me and wish her blessings on us. She was elevated, as Jesus promised:
“The first shall be last and the last shall be first.”
If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t have it any other way.