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—St. John of the Cross
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Give Thanks for Moments of Mystery

© 2014by Jennifer Read Hawthorne

Precisely the least, the softest, lightest, a lizard’s rustling, a breath,
a breeze, a moment’s glance—it is the little that makes the best happiness.
Friedrich Nietzsche

I picked up O magazine one day and read an article by Krista Tippett, who wrote that “the ancient Celts spoke of ‘thin places’ and ‘thin times’—when the veil between heaven and earth is worn thin, where the temporal and the transcendent seem to touch.” Moments of mystery, she called them. I had such an experience just last year.

It was a few weeks before Christmas, and I was thinking of my biological father, as I often do around the anniversary of his death. He was killed six weeks before I was born, so I never really knew him, and my normal thought on this anniversary was usually just a fleeting acknowledgement of the day. But on this day, it was accompanied by a momentary longing as I sighed and thought, for the first time ever, I wish I could have heard his voice. Then I quickly let it go.

The day after Christmas an envelope arrived from my uncle. I noticed immediately that it was smaller than usual; for years this uncle’s annual holiday gift had been a print of one of his commercial paintings of Louisiana landscapes. I couldn’t imagine the reason for such a change of habit.

As I opened it, I felt a sense of intrigue and mystery. Inside the package were a CD and an envelope on which a note written in red in my uncle’s handwriting announced: STOP!! Open ONLY AFTER playing the CD!!

Now I was really curious. I took the CD out of its case and pressed Play. I heard what sounded like a very old, scratchy record with men’s voices singing “I’ve Been Working On the Railroad.” I stood in my living room thinking, What? Why in the world is Uncle Bill sending me a recording of…” I stopped mid-thought. Oh, my goodness, one of those voices is my father’s! I burst into tears. Then I thought, But how will I ever know which voice is his?

I tore open the envelope and found this note: This CD was transferred and cleaned from a small 45 rpm recording made in 1945 at a USO in Indianpolis. The quartet is composed of 18-year-old soldiers stationed at Ft. Campbell, Ky. The lead-melody-part is sung by L.N. Stracener, Jr., who had an excellent baritone voice (he sang some student operas at LSU). I hope you will find this as fascinating as I did! Uncle Bill

I had my answer. I played the songs (there were two) over and over again, easily picking out my father’s voice. In fact, since then I have memorized his voice and can recall it in my mind any time I want to.

One more thing was enclosed in the envelope: a photocopy of the original envelope in which the record had been mailed. The date stamp on the envelope showed it mailed from Indianapolis, December 3, 1945. He would meet my mother the following year and marry her the next December; I was born the following December, two years after the recording was made.

On the right side, the envelope was addressed to my father in his own hand to his family’s address in Baton Rouge. On the left was a drawing of a record with “Recordio-Gram” printed across it.

I got chills as, below that, I read: “A Personally Recorded Message for You.” Sixty-one years had passed from the time the recording was made to the moment it found its way into my hands, but only weeks after I had wished for it. The unfathomable mystery of the universe was at work.

What is this mystery? It is bigger than we can imagine. Just look at photos taken by the Hubble telescope of out galaxy and beyond, and you’ll realize that we are the smallest of the small, and yet, gifted with so much. If you’re lucky enough to have money to pay your bills and the luxury of having a subscription to this magazine, you are blessed. Even so, look beyond the material to the abundance of love, friendship, comfort and wisdom so many of us have been gifted with. Don’t try to figure it out: it’s unfathomable.

And in the end, it doesn’t really matter so much what we call the “life lesson” here, only that we acknowledge these moments and happenings for what they are, and pause long enough to say “thank you” to the universe and the divine hand that guides it.