This week, we quietly marked the tenth anniversary of the beginning of a new community, a community of both friends and once-strangers that would become St. Anthony’s of Marathon, Inc. July 10-11, 2013 was the first of the Advisory Group meetings that led to the transition to lay leadership of St. Anthony’s.
For all the activity of those two days, the most important part of the transition process was to allow those gathered to grieve the loss of the Capuchin leadership in this ministry. We processed our grief by sharing our stories: stories of healing, of friendships, of welcome, of belonging, of peace and solitude, and stories of new life because of our time at St. Anthony’s.
But there was another story we didn’t share then, because no one was there to share it with us. It is the story of the triangle garden. If you are attentive when you are walking the grounds, you probably noticed a plaque in the triangle garden that reads, “In Memory of Tom – 1995”. The story of that plaque was shared with the staff and residents at our Team Retreat this spring. The Retreat leader, Steven, told the story to illustrate his connection to St. Anthony’s and its ministry. It is another story of friends and once-strangers coming together in community for healing, for belonging, and for grieving.
In the early 90’s, Steven was part of a group of men met on Thursday nights for support, community, sharing and discussion. Everyone involved was very committed. After several years they all became very close. Then one member, Tom, didn’t show up and no one could get a hold of him. He had simply disappeared. Out of concern, they urged the facilitator to contact his family, which she did. She found out Tom had a secret he wasn’t able to share. He was terminally ill. The group was heartbroken that Tom was too afraid to share that news and that struggle with them.
Tom’s illness has progressed to the point that he needed to move in with his parents. The group members all wanted to go visit Tom, but Tom’s mother said Tom wanted his privacy and was too sick to accept visitors. They respected his wishes but didn’t know how to channel their emotions, their grief over their loss of Tom. So they decided to dig up and replant the triangle garden as a way of remembrance and to create beauty from loss. They gathered together over several Saturdays and channeled their grief into the project. The group facilitator, Mary Pat, had a plaque made to honor Tom and they laid it down at the end of the project in the summer of 1995.
This summer, Steven began a multi-year project to rework that same triangle garden as well as the gardens along the front of the building. The triangle garden had become too crowded and, as we learned with the woods last year, overcrowding stunts the plants that are there and doesn’t allow any of them to be as healthy as they should be.
Steven is also going to add to the variety of flowers in that space. Currently, there are many species of the same plants, like the black-eyed susans and the different daylilies. He is digging some out to plant in his own garden until he has a place somewhere else on the grounds to replant them here. No plants are being tossed, just moved to where they can thrive. He will add some old fashioned plants that bring back memories plus some showstoppers that he is going to donate.
The great thing about stories, and sharing stories, is there are often life lessons within the stories. One of the lessons in Tom’s story, Steven’s story and St. Anthony’s story is that we all have to deal with the realities of life. That often means grieving what was even as we move into what’s next. Memories are good, but if we allow them to clutter and overcrowd the present reality, life will never be as healthy as it could be. Sometimes we need to clear out the clutter, let go of the things in the past that no longer allow us to thrive, and provide room for the new to take root.
For all the stories of St. Anthony’s – stories of healing, of friendships, of welcome, of belonging, of peace and solitude, and of new life – and for the life lessons and sense of community that sharing stories brings, we say Deo Gratias!