Keeping Faith by Cindy Bradford (serial 62)
In October, Patrick flew to Rome where he walked many of the same streets he had strolled more than twelve years before. He went by the old apartment where he had lived and found Ricardo, looking much older, his back bent further, his step awkward and unsteady, but the same sweet smile came to his face when he looked up and saw Patrick. Tears bathed both men’s eyes.
“Ciao!” Ricardo said excitedly.
“Ciao!” Patrick said, hugging him. The two men sat talking for more than an hour, Patrick in his limited Italian, Ricardo in his broken, struggling English.
“Come,” he finally said to Patrick.
Remembering this scene from a past life, he smiled to himself. Ricardo took him to the big tree and chained there was the blue scooter, shining as it was the day Patrick left. Ricardo put his hand to his heart and smiled broadly. When Patrick said good-bye the men wept, aware that this might be their last encounter.
The next day, Patrick went back to St. Peter’s Basilica, more for closure than retrospect. Once a symbol of strength to him, a place of spiritual renewal and prayerful solitude, the Basilica now only signified beauty and enduring tenacity to preserve a heritage. Looking around he tried to imagine the millions of people in five centuries who had walked in this historical and artistic treasure searching for answers, asking for peace. He remembered doing that once, but all that was left now was silence, a repressed calmness.
He took the afternoon train to Tuscany and in the warmth of its shell, Patrick began to feel better.
“When I was in Rome, I began to miss academia,” he told Stefano the next morning on the way to check the grapes.
“So, what does that mean, Patrico?”
“Stefano, I have to find something to fill the void of Carol and Olivia. Nothing will ever replace them, but perhaps something could make the hole in my heart smaller. The forecasters are predicting one of the worst winters in recent history. The winters in Maine are so long and harsh and lonely if you’re by yourself. The darkness, dampness and cold are overpowering. I have hated darkness since I was ten years old. I have to find some light.”
He continued, “I love being a student. I know that Harvard has a renowned divinity school. I think I’d like to get a doctorate there. The best scenario would be to live with my dad in Boston during the week and go home to Hidden Harbor for the weekend. I don’t know if I can qualify at Harvard, but if I can, I dare think what the congregation would do with my request. If they would accept a divinity student from Bangor several days a week to help out, I would forgo my salary just to keep the church and deliver the sermons on Sundays.”
“It seems all so logical and well planned to me,” Stefano said, “But when would you do all this?”
“That’s the problem. I may be too late for the spring semester, but it would help if I could get in then, so I could get started. Stefano, I need a diversion. It’s so difficult to be in that house.”
“Can you call someone at Harvard from here?”
“I suppose I could try.”
The call to Harvard was transferred to Dr. Jaime Mata, a professor in the School of Divinity, who listened intently as Patrick related his desire to apply to the doctoral program.
“Mr. O’Brien, what a coincidence. I have a nephew; actually he is married to my niece, who belongs to your church. Roland Wilson. He says you’re the best. My entire family is from Maine. I’ll do what I can on short notice. It generally takes much longer to get acceptance for admission here, but let me see what I can do. I’ve been here more than thirty years; surely that accounts for something. Give me your telephone number and address there in Italy. I’ll be touch.”
“Dr. Mata, I have not discussed this with my church.”
“I understand. I’ll not mention this to Roland or Ruth or anyone else, for that matter, until you tell me it is the appropriate time.”
“Thank you, Dr. Mata. I can’t thank you enough.”
“Well, it’s not a done deal yet, my boy, but this old prof will go into action.”
A week later Dr. Mata called with a swift reply. “If you can send a transcript from Bangor and one from Rome, I believe I can expedite acceptance. Your diverse credentials are a plus. I trust we can work this out.”
“I’ll call both seminaries and have them forward my transcripts.”
“I’ll send you an admissions application. Please complete it and send it back to my attention immediately. Be sure to tell the seminaries to send the transcripts to my attention, also.”
“Dr. Mata, I owe you a great deal of gratitude.”
“Save your thanks. If you get in, just don’t disappoint me. Make me proud. I have a history here you know.”
“Yes sir, I understand. I’ll give it my best.”
The month in Tuscany passed swiftly. Carmella and Stefano were like medicine to an open wound. They knew when to talk, when to be silent, when to push and when to use restraint.
“I can’t tell you how much better I feel. You always have a way of lifting me out of my doldrums. I’ll be in touch.”
“You are the son we never had,” Stefano said, hugging him. “Don’t wait so long to visit.”