I was in Louisiana a few weeks ago, in the New Orleans area. I was there for some medical tests, all of which turned out fine.I had some free time, and one day I drove across Lake Pontchartrain to a town called Madisonville, where my mom and dad lived for the last years of their lives. Their graves are there, right next to where my grandmother's grave is.
I had not been back since my mom died in 2005 and had a little trouble finding their names amidst the grave stones. I walked back and forth and finally found them. I lingered there for a while, thinking back over so many things.
I said a few prayers, but the word that was closest to my heart was thanks. We seven kids were given good lives, good years. Standing there, looking at their graves, the thought occurred to me, as it has many times, that those years were all a gift -- and they all went so fast, too fast. They were gone before I knew what they meant, what had been given through them.
Yes, through all the ordinary days that any family knows, wondrous stuff emerges.
It was a rainy day but that did not bother me. I was glad I had the chance to go to the cemetery.
Afterward, I drove to Morton's Seafood Restaurant -- it was a favorite of mom and dad's. We used to go there often. It is a real nice place, right on the Tchefunkte River.
A big steam or paddle wheeler was docked in front of the restaurant and I took some pictures of it. A woman was getting off the boat and she smiled and waved at me -- I took her picture, too.
Then I headed into the restaurant. After a having a plate of shrimp and a beer for lunch, I headed back to my car and decided to drive up to Pontchatoula, an old and lovely town up the road from Madisonville. It is known among the locals for being the Strawberry Capitol of the USA.
I found a place to park on the one (and only) main street and walked around a bit. There are a lot of antique shops and restaurants. Close to where I parked was an old locomotive -- I took some pictures of that, too. The rain had stopped by then and the sky was overcast -- a good day for taking pictures.
It was time to head back to the New Orleans area. I took my time walking back to the car and then making the drive to the Causeway, the long bridge that spans Lake Pontchartrain.I never really lived in Madisonville -- my mom and dad moved there after I was settled (more or less) in my own life. So I guess it was, in terms of a residence, not really home to me. But home is where the heart is. And a big chunk of my heart is there.
Many of the friends my parents made over the years befriended me as well. Most of them have passed on. I keep in touch with the few who are left.
If there is one word I had to choose to sum up all that I knew of Madisonville, it would be kindness. It is such a warm, human word, kindness. And it flowed so easily from the hearts of so many people in that little town.
We all come from different places. All the people I passed during my brief visit to Madisonville -- a place that now feels like home to me -- will someday look back and say a word, a big word, of gratitude for all that was so freely given. They may say that word in the town where they grew up, or in a place far from their birth.
The lady who waved and smiled to me as she stepped of that big boat -- I hope that picture comes out. I only saw her once, and will surely never see her again. It was, well, kind of her to do that. Such a small thing that carries something of the eternal.
It happens every day. My parents told me to look for it.
Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Ga. Highway 212 S.W., Conyers. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.