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  • It was just a phone call to wish the ol' man happy birthday. He was turning 76. We got to talking, as always happened. Me and the old man were both talkers, though the quality of our conversations had improved a bit in recent years. We’d slowly grown to be very good friends, though I still relished him as much, or more, as simply my Dad. I’d really grown to love him over the previous 10 years – prior to that, not so much. We’d always rubbed each other the wrong way. I often thought that I reminded him too much of his own Dad, who he’d had a lot of issues with. He’d died less than 3 weeks before I was born. He, too, was big into baseball, music, and was a great bullshitter, which I’d often been accused of being. He was very Irish, which was the part of my heritage that I laid the largest claim to. Dad embraced the German-Alsatian part of the heritage, the strain that came down from his grandfather, Martin Hager.

    Dad’s best friend, Paul McCarthy, had just passed away at the too-young age of 49. He talked at length about the Memorial Service for Paul. It was the first such service that had been conducted at the fledgling congregation that dad and mom had recently joined, the Center for Conscious Living. It was a renegade off-shoot of the Church of Religious Science (not to be confused with Christian Science - light years apart), led by a dynamic, energetic female minister who'd followed her husband to New Jersey from California. When there were no such congregations to be found in NJ, Carol was encouraged to study to be a minister and start her own congregation - and so she did. Reverend Carol - just saying her name brings a smile to my face, a light to my heart, and makes me feel centered. She had that effect on people.

    Dad had left the Catholic church and faith in disgust and disappointment after 61 years of singing in church choirs like his father before him had. There had been a number of issues that had percolated towards the boil of this decision, but the final straw had been the diocese's refusal to provide support or sustenance for the gay and lesbian issues that Dad had become a champion for, through his involvement with PFLAG. He just walked away from it. Dad was, if nothing else, a man of strong moral principle, and he was not shy about expressing his belief, and would call phonies out on the carpet in a heartbeat. He'd called the diocese out, publicly, and they chose to ignore him. That's when he knew he no longer belonged in such an organization. He just walked away.

    Dad described how Paul had come back to life upon joining the Center. He’d been dealing with numerous health problems for years, and had become a hermit and a slave to his medications and ailments, slowly withdrawing from any kind of an active life. Joining the Center for Conscious Living had been his resurrection. He got involved, and became very active in the Center, and in his life. He’d spent his last year on earth full alive.

    He talked about how they'd prepared for Paul's service. Reverend Carol wanting to make sure she knew as much as she could learn about his life, and just how intentional the whole thing was, how it was a true celebration of Paul’s light and his life. Dad spun the tale of how he had engaged with Paul's sisters and parents, down from Boston for the service, staunch catholics all, so appalled that Paul's wife, June, would do anything other than a catholic funeral and mass for Paul. How one sister had even refused to enter the service at all, and how Dad had talked with her about Paul, what he'd meant to dad, and how his last year, in this congregation, had been such a blessing for him, and for those he'd touched. He’d managed to melt her stoic resistance, and she had joined in the “celebration”.

    The more Dad talked, the more I realized how much alike we had become. How even our spiritual beliefs had become aligned. It was unbelievable to me. The more he described this congregation he and Mom had joined, the more I thought to myself "that’s where we belong!" We’d been looking for a spiritual home for several years, since our previoius spiritual home had moved away from what had drawn us to it in the first place.

    There was something cosmically symmetrical about it. 21 years sooner, I had left the faith of my father, ditched the Catholic Church, because I just could not believe its tenets and practices, and had left my father stranded at church one sunday when I was supposed to give him a ride home from mass, mainly because I hadn't attended, and forgotten to get back there to pick him up!

    Now, here I was, contemplating joining the new faith of my father - and, so I did. We did. The first time we walked in the doors – I can still remember it like it was yesterday, a cold November day with snow on the ground, feeling so welcomed by the congregation, and listening to Reverend Carol that first time. It felt exactly like “Home” – our spiritual home.

    Dad’s and my relationship would blossom into such a close and warm friendship over that next year and a half, and these people, who’d also grown to know and love him dearly, would become part of my larger family, and would help me go through his transition to the other side with grace and support. Sam would even provide a report from “the other side”, through his mother, that was one of the most cherished gifts I have ever received from another human being. Reverend Carol would conduct his memorial service.

    Although we were only active members of that congregation for a year and a half, then moved away from the area 16 years ago, I still consider it my spiritual home. All as a result of a Happy Birthday phone call to the old man. Life is funny like that.
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