Thirty-seven years ago, a stranger gave me the gift of a brighter future. While he didn’t know it at the time, his gesture of kindness provided me with an opportunity to heal from a lifetime of trauma and grief. I was sick with leukaemia and tormented with grief from my brother’s recent suicide.
Padre Ilarino, the head of a monastery just outside of Assisi in Italy, provided refuge and care so I could begin the journey of healing my broken heart.
Nineteen years later, in 2004, I was featured on Channel 9’s program, This Is Your Life. One of the guests they interviewed was Padre Ilarino, in Assisi.
I was amazed and delighted to see his face on the screen and to hear his voice once again. While he spoke no English and I, very little Italian, we’d always communicated effortlessly from heart to heart. At this same time, he sent a separate, longer video in which he asked me to visit again.
Just after the program aired, one of the viewers – another stranger, wrote to me offering her home in Assisi, should we ever return for a visit. And, just a few weeks later Wendie and I flew to Italy for my precious reunion with Padre Ilarino.
As a Franciscan who’d made a vow of poverty, there was little I could give Padre Ilarino to show my gratitude for his love and care in the months I meditated in St Francis’s cave. Every year, knowing how cold Assisi winters are, I sent him a pair of possum-fur socks.
When we arrived, it was obvious that Padre Ilarino was very unwell. We talked as we always had. It was so wonderful to be able to thank him for all he had done for me. He had loved me when I had little care or love for myself.
When it came time for us to leave, I gently lifted his brown habit which revealed his cold and swollen ankles and feet. I gently put on the new possum socks I’d brought him, and he gave me his final blessing.
Padre Ilarino refused to have his socks removed and was buried in them, just two weeks after our reunion in the photo above.
His gestures of kindness, and that of Margaret’s who kindly offered her home to us in Assisi, have often nourished my heart and reminded me that kindness can change a life. Indeed, kindness can change the world.
Can you give the gift of a brighter future to others this season?
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