On Good Friday, I was told that my best friend of 50 years, Father Raymond Garbin, had died.
Our friendship began on a retreat just before our ordination for the Diocese of Joliet, Ill. What brought us together was our Italian heritage: He was Venetian and I am Abruzzese.
I will never forget going to his home for lunch and meeting his parents who didn’t speak English. His mother had prepared “uccellini,” which translates as “small birds.” There, on the tray, were half a dozen little birds lying on their backs with their legs in the air. Seeing them, I respectfully asked, “Do you have any Genoa salami?”
His mother caught my reticence and brought me salami. Her respect for my taste was also the same respectfulness Ray showed others, especially me. His parents may not have had an education but oh the beautiful insightfulness they passed on to Ray. He could see through so many things and call them as they were.
One of the awesome meanings of Easter: praising God for the life-giving spirit with which God blesses us and passing it on to those coming after us.
When I was conducting research at the University of Wisconsin, I invited Ray along for the ride. After showing him our results, he commented, “Does research have to be so complicated?” It was one of many wise observations he often made.
Another time, he read the draft of my new book and said, “You have too much of yourself in it.” He was ever so correct; too often we get carried away.
He was a keen observer of life, aging and suffering. Once, when he fell asleep while riding with me I chided him, “Hey, Ray, you’re getting old.” He replied in Italian, “Mannaggia la vecchiaia,” meaning “cursed be old age,” and then added, “Someday all of us will end up in the boneyard.”
There was no fear in his voice, just humorously accepting the facts of life.
I thank God for the beautiful memories of Ray Garbin, but he is more than a passing memory. His spirit lives on in me and those he touched. It is an undying spirit of wisdom and down-to-earth style, mirroring Christ, who, in addition to giving us his flesh and blood, gave us his undying spirit.
Life is a matrix of spirits often containing divine wisdom that intertwines with our spirit. It may be the spirit of our parents, teachers, friends or siblings that continue to live on in us. Sometimes we wonder why we do what we do, and then realize it is mom’s or dad’s driving spirit in us.
This is one of the awesome meanings of Easter: praising God for the life-giving spirit with which God blesses us and passing it on to those coming after us. It is also a time to be thankful for the Ray Garbins whose spirits live on in us.
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