He was a dear friend from college and delightfully quirky. He was six foot eight, brilliant, perceptive, with a quick and witty sense of humor, and never disrespectful. He was the gentlest of souls and a devout Catholic of Polish descent.
I liked to think he saw me as a little sister. Even though I was several years older I was considerably more naïve about…well a lot of things outside Detroit’s city limits. On the long walks across campus he would often mentor, more accurately tutor me about chemistry, microbiology and research; we were both Botany and Plant Pathology majors. I lacked in formal education, having never attended high school, but he would encourage that I more than made up for it with a willingness to learn.
We remained friends through those college and graduate years, and met twice after he returned home to Indiana. When I’d phone him, his mother, who usually answered, would yell “It’s your Michigan Margaret!” I’d always meant to ask him how many Margarets he knew.
The other day, pulling out the Christmas boxes to repack the decorations, I discovered in the bottom of one a little leather pouch tucked into a plastic storage bag. I recognized it immediately as the last Christmas gift received from my friend—the last I’d ever heard from him.
It was a strange gift. He, as a devout Catholic, had gently tried to persuade me to return to my childhood faith. This gift was a Native American medicine bag—a spirituality that we had discussed, but that I was never really drawn to, either. When I had peeked inside the deer skin pouch there were tiny stones and a small turquoise bear. I remembered thinking then, how odd, and put it aside. That was over four decades ago.
Picking up the plastic bag from the bottom of the box, I removed the soft leather pouch and remembered a friendship long past. I smiled at the thought of him, an indisputably chaste man, giving me, a remnant of a woman from Detroit, a gift with the fertility god, Kokopelli, embossed on the flap.
As I am prone to do, I began praying for him while removing the little treasures from the tiny purse. I had no idea about the symbolisms of the stones or coins, or the why—at what I thought the bottom of the pouch—of a scrap of cotton cloth. Rubbing the pouch with my thumb, I felt something still inside. My fingers were too thick to fit within, so I tipped it up and a necklace chain flowed into my palm. A thrill ran through me, the same sort of feeling as when I saw that dear man waiting to walk me across campus.
I pulled gently on the necklace. Whatever was attached was too big to easily pass through the small opening. Pinching the bottom of the pouch, I wiggled the jewelry out and discovered a solid silver cross. I smiled, and then cried; I had never acknowledged his precious gift.
For over forty years the cross and his affection had lain hidden. But now, here was my old friend, come again, to remind me of the preciousness of my soul.
What ever family fills his life, where ever he may be, may the Lord bless him and keep him, may the Lord’s light always shine upon him and grant him peace.