“For the ones who had a notion,
A notion deep inside,
That it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive.”
I remember a time, when I was a little girl, that my brother Mark was very sick.
Mark was my first brother, and at the time the youngest in the family. We were born one-two-three, the tag team of myself and Gina born a year apart, and Mark coming a few years later. So at the time I’m remembering, he was about three or four, and I was in first or second grade.
I don’t remember the details, or maybe I never knew them. I just remember getting off the bus from St. Patrick’s and rushing into the house to share my day. My mom, in a sharp voice, told me to hush. My brother was in her bedroom, sick, and Gina and I would have to be quiet that day.
I ran to our room at the end of the hall, my mind reeling. We all got sick. We were kids, after all. But this seemed more serious than the colds and fevers we came down with and often shared. Maybe it was because it was my brother, the baby, the one who had a heart murmur. Or maybe it was that he was sleeping in my parents’ room, which was usually off limits to us. Or maybe it was the drama of it all—my mother’s serious tone, the darkened room, the tiptoeing and whispering.
I did the only thing I knew to do at the time. I began to bargain with God. “Please make my brother better,” I pleaded. “I promise I will say a decade of the rosary every day of my life if you’ll just make him well.”
Of course, I know now that God has a plan, and it is the right plan, and it’s not going to be changed by any earthly power. Certainly not the repetitive devotions of grade schooler. But I felt like I had to do something. And Mark did get better.
And I’m sure you know what happened to the promise. For a couple of days, I religiously closed my bedroom door and offered up the ten Hail Marys I promised. But soon ten turned to five, and then one, and then the promise went forgotten, perhaps outgrown, like so many other vows we made and discarded during the process of growing up.
As an adult, I learned about real prayer, the prayer with power, the talking to and worship of God. And I know that prayer comes in many many types, almost as many as there are individuals created. Some pray with closed hands, while others raise their hands in praise. Some prayers are serious and solemn, like the Gregorian chants that reverberate in the sanctuary and the soul. Others are loud and vibrant, the praise music, the clapping, the joyful noise unto the Lord.
And then some prayers are constant, the type that are never far from your mind, repeated with every heartbeat throughout the day. That’s the type I’ve been praying ever since that day in late January, when Mark sent me the simple text: Non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Since then, life has been a whirlwind of chemo and PET scans, spinal taps and baby steps toward getting better. And all of that has been surrounded with prayers of every type, even the type that are found in the singing guitar, the pounding drumbeat and the crystal clear saxophone of rock and roll. That’s always been Mark’s preference, finding meaning in lyrics, embracing the leaps of faith and counting on the hope he’s heard in the music of Bruce Springsteen.
A few years after my childhood promise, we were blessed with a second brother, Tim. He’s the only one of us who doesn’t still live here in our hometown. He followed his high school sweetheart from West Deptford, NJ to Georgia, married her and eventually settled in Florida. Sometimes it’s hard to be long-distance, particularly when hard times hit. But he’s been saying his own prayers, and on his own mission—to find a way to ease Mark’s stress and make him smile through all of this.
When the six of us scored tickets to the Springsteen concerts in Philly, Tim made his move. He sent letters and emails to anyone with a possible connection to the Boss. His request was a simple one: he asked that Bruce dedicate a song to Mark at one of the shows. He inserted a link to and pushed SEND, adding a whispered prayer of his own.
Somehow, one of those letters reached the right person in the Springsteen organization. She contacted Tim. Bruce couldn’t do the dedication, but his management team invited us to be their guests at Thursday’s show.
Which is how I ended up at a sound check, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band playing a mini-concert for six people, all of them related to me. And then Bruce came over to talk with us, and for a moment there was no chemo appointments or ports or hair loss or pain, just conversation and laughter and hugs between this family, connected by music and extended by one.
Those who have seen the pictures have asked what connections I had. The truth is, I have no connections with Bruce, beyond being a four decade fan and a believer in “the magic in the night.” But I am connected to the Lord and to this incredible family, some who were beside me as I cried watching my brother meet his musical hero, others who were rooting for us, from home or from heaven, understanding what it meant for us to have this moment.
Life gives each of us challenges and struggles. It’s all part of the plan. But some times heaven allows us a glimpse of better days, just enough to renew our faith and our strength.
Or maybe Bruce said it better (doesn’t he always?):
“It’s been a long long drought baby
Tonight the rain’s pourin’ down on our roof
Looking for a little bit of God’s mercy
I found living proof.”