There and Back (Version deux)
There and Back (deux)
I truly believe that my spiritual journey began before I was born; however, I was not cognizant of it until much later (approximately forty-two years). I cannot tell you I grew up with any hardship or catastrophic events because there were none. I did grow up with love all around me. My family did not have a lot of money; however, we have always had enough and this blessing (having enough money and not wanting or needing anymore) continues to this day. I now understand that I have been blessed from the beginning; however, 20, 30 or even 40 years ago I would have struggled to draw this conclusion; again it was not to due to any hardship or catastrophic event; it was due to my lack of ability to discern/understand that I am and continue to be blessed more than I can ever imagine; and I believe you are also…
My parents were excellent in their parenting skills; my father was somewhat removed from church activity; however, he was spiritual (he did survive WWII need I mention more?) and my mother brought me to our Methodist (United) Church, quite frequently, and made sure I was enrolled in Sunday school until my teen years. My parents were the best Christian role models; my brother, sister and I could possibly ever have. They truly lived out the 10 Commandments (however they were not displayed in our house).
When I was 17 years of age I met my “true love” (merely by “coincidence” or was it Divine Intervention?) while visiting Florida. I literally ran into her at Jensen Beach, Florida. Let me rephrase that, I threw a Frisbee in her general direction and I managed to hit her with it (on her derriere). I am not usually competitive; however, I did hurry and got to her side before my friend (Rick) did (not that he necessarily hurried; you see I cannot remember because my attention was somewhere else). Kathleen (Kate) and I quickly became friends and kept “in-touch” by phone on a weekly basis (thank God for those inexpensive AT&T Canada/U.S.A. plans). I confided to my friends that I was confused because I knew deep in my heart that Kate was my ain true love; however, we were from different countries and it was just by mere “coincidence” (i.e. Divine Intervention) that we ran into each other.
Perhaps, I should have began to understand that God’s intervention may appear to be mere “coincidence” to the unaware; however, unknowing to me (at that time) Divine Intervention was again being provided. The seeds were planted. We continued to date others; however, both of us would end up comparing our dates significantly short of our experience with each other (deep in our hearts we knew we were meant for each other). We began to set plans. We knew we would not marry until after both of us graduated college. This decision was made not only to respect our parents; but also because deep in our hearts we both knew it would be the right thing to do to facilitate our lives together (was this The Holy Spirit looking out for us?).
Just prior to my college graduation my Father passed on (pancreatic cancer at the age of 67); it was definitely a very sad event for my family, friends and I. Although I grieved for my father’s passing, I was also concerned for my mother because she was a devoted wife and was quite dependent upon my father. She had never learned how to drive and was a stay-at-home mother. My father did not have much in the form of life insurance either. However, just by mere “coincidence” (Divine Intervention) a condominium developer came along and wanted to buy my mother’s house and property as well as everyone else’s property on the block. My mother refused to sell at first (the memories at our house were too precious). The developer managed to buy almost everyone’s property (except five or six places) so he decided to increase his offer considerably; my mother and one other neighbor (another widow and close friend of my mother) decided it was in their best interest to sell (just after a minor, yet I speculate significant house robbery on the block just south of theirs...) and closed the deal (the other 3 neighbors were adamant about holding out for more). My mother and her next-door neighbor received enough money to support themselves comfortably for the rest of their lives (my mother turns 90 in August of 2009). They moved into the same condominium (separate suites) in a nice, peaceful neighborhood with bus service to the front entrance. My mother was the last person to sell and receive her money; the developer went bankrupt and to this day her house and all of her neighbors’ houses are still there. No development has occurred, 30 years have passed and the property values are still well below what she and her neighbor were paid.
Upon my college graduation, by “coincidence” (Divine Intervention), I was provided with an excellent career position at Kimberly-Clark, Inc. (K.C.) as a Forest Engineer. I had worked the three previous summers at K.C. so I was a known quantity; they knew what they were getting (God help me and them). Although I must add, there were some significant “coincidences” that occurred just prior to being hired for summer employment (three years previous). At the end of my first year of college (freshman – year) I applied for four summer positions in Northern Ontario. Several companies were interviewing for timber cruisers and road surveyors. I submitted my resume at our college placement office and waited patiently. Finally my name was listed for an interview with K.C. and one other company. That was great! My father had “schooled” me on how to be prepared for interviews and how to act (he was a manager for Dunham – Bush Inc.). After approximately three weeks I finally saw the name, John Conner listed for interviewing with K.C. I was ecstatic! I researched the company and on the day of the interview (remembering my father’s advice) I arrived ½ hour before the interview in my drab-grey and pin-striped suit. I was met by Bob (Forbes) and Dave (Wright). Dave, head of personnel was wearing the same suit as I had on (all I could think was, Oh my God – not daring to say anything). Dave informed me (just after I got there) that they were ahead of schedule and they were ready to interview me (little did I know that they were trying to finish early so they could get out of there and back to their hotel – that is, according to Bob, told to me several years later), I was somewhat out-of-place; however, I was not going to say no; so I walked in to the interview room and had an excellent interview; although I noticed the resume they had did not appear to be the one I submitted. After leaving the Interview room, I met a second - year student named John M. Conner! He was sitting and waiting for his interview. Approximately one month later I was offered a summer job at K.C. That summer I worked in the K.C. Engineering Office and chatted quite frequently with Bob Forbes; chuckling like only Bob could muster, he informed me that they didn’t usually hire freshman and that my interview – slot was meant for the other John Connor! Although he did add that after interviewing me; Dave Wright (the man with the same suit) wanted to hire me and shared that Dave thought I was of “good character and taste!”.
Kate would have one more year until she would graduate with her teaching degree. Upon her graduation we would get married in her hometown, Altamonte Springs, Florida (Church of the Annunciation) and I would travel with my bride back to Longlac, Ontario, Canada. The journey back to Longlac would constitute our honeymoon. This is exactly what happened. However, realizing that I wanted my future children to grow up like my wife I gladly converted to the Catholic Faith (this was also interesting because as of 2009 we have 3 daughters (and in there own way they are all wonderful and similar to their mother, Kathleen Mary). So, we were married in front of the Alter and received the Sacrament of Marriage (we celebrated our 25thAnniversary at the Alter again in 2009). After our marriage, and arrival back to Longlac, Ontario Canada; Kate applied for a teaching position (secondary science) however, because she was not bilingual (neither am I, nor are the vast majority of Canadians) she could not obtain a teaching position in Longlac, Ontario. The “good-hearted” Kimberly-Clark hired her as a Shipping Clerk out of concern for her and to assist in retaining me; however, deep in Kate’s heart and mine we knew she wanted to teach (she did not complain; she accepted the clerk position and pretended to be content). Again, God was speaking (would I listen?).
Well, all I can state is, that God has significantly creative methods to get you to do His will (perhaps when He knows you really want to do His will). All I can state is "Be not afraid". Just before our first Christmas in Longlac together, Kate became deathly ill. she developed what is known as enterocolitis and had to be rushed to the closest "hospital" (Geraldton), stabilized with 6 units of blood and then flown by "chopper" to Thunder Bay's St. Joseph's Regional Hospital. We spent 2 weeks in intensive care (Christmas and New Years) before she was released. When she was released I had already arranged with her family for Kate to spend the rest of the winter at their/her home in the Sunshine State.
After she had been home for about a month I asked her if she wanted to apply for teaching positions in Florida. If she could be hired then KC would probably furnish me with a leave of absence. Kathleen subsequently received 5 teaching offers; (any anxiety that tried to set-in quickly evaporated again). I received my paid Leave of Absence, received legal alien status (we were already married), drove down to Florida, and found a position within two days at a woods product company called Hardwoods Inc. The United States embraced me immediately, Florida felt like home to me and I was thrilled to be living in Florida. I remember writing a note to my friends stating, that down here, they even had hockey rinks for me to play in (maybe, just maybe, H-E-double hockey sticks is hot and heaven is a sufficiently cold ice rink).
Well, life sailed on for our family with very few noticeable coincidences (three: Divine Interventions) for quite some time. Our family grew from two to five without incidence (Kaitlan was born in 1990, Kelsey in 1992, and Kiersten in 1994). We were both teachers now and with three children we were beginning to understand the term “financial struggle”. No need to worry though because it was time for another “coincidence”. I was enrolled in a college course when I began to talk with and get to know our professor; he was a school psychologist. Even though I had become a secondary teacher, I did not know that this position even existed. Well, my path was suddenly set, defined, and apparent. I would become a school psychologist. Somehow I knew it would happen, but how?
Through Divine Intervention, I was admitted into the University of Central Florida (UCF) School Psychologist Graduate Program. I applied two weeks prior to the deadline and received an invitation for an interview from Dr. David Mealor. I was informed that they only accept 15 students; however, over 200 applied. I was accepted into the program, although I do not know why I was accepted and so many others were not. I was then informed that I could continue to teach while pursuing this course of study; and, that I would qualify for a Leave of Absence for the last year of the program so that I could complete the paid full-year internship and resume my position as a teacher if I could not find a psychologist position.
I realized and remember saying to Kate it would work out (and deep down inside realizing that there was no need for anxiety/worry and I began to give thanks to God; instead of allowing anxiety to set in). I was finally beginning to learn how to truly live (how appropriate is it that our state motto is: In God We Trust).
It all worked out so conveniently it was truly amazing. I became the President of UCF Kappa Delta Pi, graduated with High Honours in 1998, was offered a position in Volusia Schools as a School Psychologist, and subsequently declined the position (divine intervention). Daytona State College (formerly known as Daytona Beach Community College) offered me a position as Assistant Professor of Education and Psychology; and, would allow me to begin to evaluate college students for learning disabilities and other disorders. My wisdom gained from UCF would now provide a dual purpose. I would be able to practice school psychology (which was important to me) and teach future teachers how to teach (which was also important to me; especially since I gained significant insight from studying school psychology about how people learn; thus how to properly train student-teachers). I began to believe my prayer was more than answered because now I could earn enough money so that we could provide for our family, was given the insight/wisdom to properly train teachers to be effective and I could continue to practice school psychology. Life was great! Our children were excelling in school and they were happy. They were attending wonderful schools. Kathleen was content and happy. I became a tenured faculty member and was offered the Program Manager position for Teacher Education in 2000 by Dr, David Miller and Dr. Frank Wetta. During the course of all of this, we had settled in Altamonte Springs (where Kate had grown up; she was working for her mother’s business; our children were in excellent schools and I found myself living very close to two ice hockey rinks where I continued my habit/attachment of playing ice hockey with my friends).
It was New Years Eve 2002 (and I was completely content) and we suddenly received a call from the wife of one of my closest friends. She was crying. Don (Elderdice) had been rushed to Florida Hospital and had been diagnosed with a brain aneurysm. He was only 39 years of age. My closest aunt (Connie Wilson) had passed away from a brain aneurysm at 39 years of age in the 1960s. They scheduled him for emergency surgery and operated on New Years Day. Don was built like a gladiator and was in great shape; I was speechless. I said a prayer, my wife gave me her scapular and I proceeded to Florida Hospital (it was pouring rain). The nurses allowed me access to Don; I prayed and left the scapular with him (I had never prayed so deeply). He underwent surgery and was induced into a coma to enhance the probability of recovering.
Less than one week later (January 6, 2003) I was to end up in the room next to Don. At the same hospital that Father Groeschel (EWTN) was admitted and survived a coma from a horrific car accident.
The majority of the details, which follow, are not of my memory, but of my wife and family’s remembrance. I had spent the day at Daytona State College (DSC). It was a pre-term planning/workday. I had taken our middle daughter along for the day. As I was driving home from Daytona that afternoon, I called my wife to tell her I was really tired and not to work too late. By the time my wife arrived home, I had cooked some spaghetti and was very tired. I had told my wife I did not feel very good and was going to lie down for a while. During the next 2 hours, I spent my time between the bed and the bathroom. My wife thought I was experiencing the stomach flu (our oldest daughter had just recently been afflicted with it). At one point, my wife went to make me some tea and dry toast, to settle my stomach. However, upon her return with the tea and toast, I was not to be found…until she discovered me on the floor of our bathroom, aspirating and in seizure.
Immediately, my wife called her parents and 911. The squad quickly rushed me to the emergency room at Florida Hospital (Altamonte). The staff at Altamonte determined that they were not equipped to handle a situation such as mine. I was diagnosed “brain-dead” as the result of a hemorrhage of the right ventricle and was on full life support. Within just a few hours I had been transferred to Florida Hospital South (by the Orlando Science Center).
At this point it was no mere “coincidence” that another Divine Intervention was at work. Dr. Christopher Baker was on call that night (I thank God for this). His neuro-nurse Marsha was on the floor, as was Darlene, an amazingly talented neuro-nurse. They had to relieve the pressure in my cranium and when they drilled a very small hole (yes, I had a hole in my head) they said that they had never seen so much blood come out of someone’s head. And, here was I, in a natural coma, being placed in the room immediately beside my friend Don Elderdice (who was in a drug induced coma) in the Neuro-Critical Care Ward (5thFloor) of Florida Hospital South, Orlando. By Tuesday afternoon, I had been administered the Sacrament of Extreme Unction (Last Rites) by Father David Scotchie (who I have, on a few subsequent occasions, “coincidently”, referred to him as Father Christi). Christi is Latin for Christ and when Father Scotchie administered this sacrament according to our faith (the Roman Catholic Faith) we believe the Priest becomes Christ temporarily. Now I must confess that I had no earthly idea that I believed this (even though it is part of our faith). I must confess before my coma I was not cognizant of this belief. Yet I did indeed refer to him as Father Christi (without thinking) on 2 occasions after my coma. Think what you must...
No one ever dreamed that I would someday walk out of that hospital (except me and you know who). The staff tried diligently to illicit a reflex response from me. My wife had been told that each day would be taken one at a time but that if no response had been documented by the fourth day, a decision would have to be made. However, on the morning of the fourth day the staff was quite thrilled and it was decided that I stood a chance for I had moved one of my “pinkie” toes. The next two months were spent in the hospital and followed by another 5 months of rehabilitation therapies. Even though I had a long road to travel, it seems to have been a relatively easy and short journey.
There are pictures of Jesus Christ and other religious figures on the walls of what I consider a sacred place of Divine Intervention; a place (a place of business) where the administrators are not too proud or ignorant to realize the extraordinary influence that God can have when we are inclusive of Him. Don and I both fully recovered. Don and I run into each other at least once a week as we continue to play ice hockey and reflect on our Good News. Once or twice a month we skate with his son, Ryan and teach him the game of hockey; Don shines during this time and does not take his presence here for granted. We also visit Florida Hospital around the New Year Holiday, each and every year, to give thanks to where Divine Intervention continues to occur. Although I resigned as Director of our Educator Preparation Institute I continue to profess and research in the subject areas of psychology and education. I have co-authored an educational psychology textbook and authored a learning theory (Revelation Theory of Learning). However, I believe more importantly I have balanced my life with other not so trivial pursuits. I am an active member of our parish’s Ministry to The Sick (I bring communion to their bedside), Knights of Columbus (3rdDegree), I have become a Secular Carmelite and I play old-timers hockey with a community of immature men (like myself) who, for the most part, enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
I have learned much throughout my life; however, my learning curve was significantly more - steep during and immediately after my coma. Here are some of the insights/revelations that were shared with me.
When you are close to God it is significantly peaceful and beautiful. “Life” does not end when we die; we carry on in spirit…Your life does flash before you as you pass; however, for me I kept going back before my birth to a time and place much like Eden that had been described in our Bible. God is with you; even when you think he is not (I could reflect on this so profoundly when I awakened, I was profoundly aware that He was with me throughout my life…). Some of our greatest 20th Century role models for mankind are: John Paul II, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, and interestingly enough, a non-Christian, Mahatma Gandhi. There are others… More precisely it is not the type of religion you practice it is how well you emulate our Greatest role-model…