Last Friday, we drove to Ohio to witness Andrea, the daughter of our "big" brother, marry Brian, a wonderful man who she's known since eighth grade, well over a decade.
The vow ceremony took place by a gazebo, on park-like grounds that featured two small ponds and a plush carpet of rich green grass. There were large helium balloons floating solo as well as in clusters attached to long strands of ribbon tied to weights. I imagined a child holding onto them and being taken for a ride. But the story of these balloons was more intense than anything my vain imaginings could conjure. They hovered over this milestone event in Andrea's life to honor loved ones no longer with us, and they were a reminder of an extraordinary event that involved her Grandpa. Dad.
Andrea was five years old, her brother Patrick six, when Grandpa came for a visit in California. The family was enjoying some sightseeing in San Francisco when, in one terrifying moment, they realized that nobody was holding Andrea's hand, and she was missing. Perhaps she was still standing in the spot where they'd all been together last. They immediately separated to find her. Dad in one direction and my brother and sister-in-law in another.
What nobody knew was that two men had approached Andrea from either side and took her away. She cried, but nobody came to her aid. Perhaps onlookers mistook her tears for the tantrum of a spoiled five-year-old. What could be wrong for a child who even had a helium balloon tied to her wrist?
It was the balloon that helped Grandpa spot her from across the street, and he ran after them and whisked her away.
THE UNTOLD STORY
We didn't recall Dad repeating the story when he returned to New York, but I don't believe it was because he minimized it. Dad believed in the grace of God, but he also said that sometimes the outcome wasn't as we would have liked, and that those times didn't mean that God loved us any less. Whatever life brought, if we are positioned to reflect God's light, it would shine through us even in darkness, much like the moon reflects the sun.
When we truly sense how much we depend on the grace of God to sustain us and our loved ones each day, and especially in dangerous situations, it can feel overwhelming. And I know that Dad thought about this when he recalled that his good friends were all killed in a car accident one night when his father kept him home, and through his experiences in WWII, maybe especially after a live shell hit the ground near his sergeant and him. They ran and neither was injured.
Dad didn't think of himself as a hero, but a human being who was part of a plan he couldn't explain. Maybe that's why he never told us the story. He was a grandfather who was given the gift of being able to stop two men from stealing his granddaughter. Knowing Dad, he also thought of those not as fortunate, and they and their loved ones became part of his middle-of-the-night rosaries.
The fellowship between Dad, Andrea and the balloon tied to her wrist came to mind throughout the day: when she danced her first dance with her husband and later with her Dad and when, at night, the balloons were illuminated.