“My name is Patrick”
In May of 2019 I was a member of a pilgrimage group that walked the segment of the Camino in Spain from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela. One of the special surprises for me as an introvert was the joy in meeting and walking with fellow pilgrims from all over the world. One person, in particular, that I met on the trail was someone who I never expected to meet.
A little personal background: I am the youngest of nine children. My parents, especially my mother were very faithful Catholics, but they were also very private people. It wasn’t until my college years when my mother was fighting cancer – a battle that she lost on Christmas Eve of 1979, that she opened up a little bit of her faith experience. During that time, she shared two things with me that are relevant to this experience.
Up until that time I thought of myself as the youngest of seven. I had five siblings who were born fairly close in age to each other, then there was a seven-year gap, then my brother Mike who is 13 months older than me, and then finally me. But my mother shared with me something I was not previously aware of - that she had two miscarriages in that seven-year gap. One she said was a little girl, but the other was too young for the doctors to tell.
At the time those miscarriages happened people just didn’t talk about them. It was sad, but you were expected to get over it. Even my older siblings didn’t talk about them. So, it took me another thirty plus years to process it to the point where I would occasionally include them in my prayers. About ten years ago, I named my miscarried sister Rose – why Rose is another story for another day. The other baby I didn’t name because I didn’t know whether it was a girl or a boy. I just didn’t make the same spiritual connection with that sibling as I did with Rose.
Speaking of names, another thing my mother shared with me toward the end of her life was that she and my dad didn’t agree on what my name should be. My mother wanted to name me Daniel; my father wanted to name me Patrick. The moral I took from that was since I was, in fact, named Dan I figured that my quiet mother must have had some determination because she won that argument.
Fast-forward now to walking the Camino. There are markers along the way to help keep you on the trail. They can vary from a simple yellow arrow painted on the side of a building, or even right on the road, but most common are these little signposts that have the pilgrim’s scallop shell turned in the direction you should go and a little bronze plaque that notes how many kilometers it is to Santiago, where the Cathedral of St James is located.
One day at breakfast, I was inspired to spend the morning praying for my family members. I decided that as I passed the next marker that I would pray for my wife, then as I passed the next I would pray for my oldest son and so on until I had prayed for my wife, all of my children, their spouses and all of my grandchildren.
It turned out to be a tremendous experience because every time I passed a marker and started praying for a different member of my family, something would happen, literally within a few steps that reminded me of that person. For example, my wife’s favorite flower is the yellow rose. As I started praying for her I turned a corner and there was this spray of yellow roses spilling over a stone fence. My granddaughter Mallory’s favorite color is orange; as I passed her marker and started praying for her a little European robin with his orange face and breast flew across the path just in front of me, landed on a bush just to my right and not only sat there as I walked by just a couple of feet from him, he was singing for all he was worth. My son-in-law Jason repairs farm equipment. As I passed his marker I came into this tiny village and a huge combine came up the road; it was so big that I had to not only step aside but kind of flatten myself against a building as it went past me. The whole morning was like that.
It was so powerful that as I finished praying for my own family I decided to pray for my birth family. So, I started with my dad, then mom, then my five oldest siblings in order. Then I intended to pray for my brother Mike, when it occurred to me that I should pray for my sister Rose who I never met – one of my miscarried siblings. When it was her turn I passed this little stone house – it had to be a at least a couple of hundred years old – kind of all leaning to one side but obviously still lived in. The house may have been a bit dubious but the yard was absolutely filled with the most beautiful roses of almost every imaginable color.
Then I was going to pray for Mike when I heard a voice. It was as clear as day. I suppose that I may have heard it in my thoughts, but at that moment and still today I would tell you that I heard it with my ears. The voice said, “My name is Patrick.” And then I instantly knew that my mother’s other miscarriage was a son. And I knew why my mother really won that disagreement with my father about what my name should be. We already have a boy named Patrick in the family, and so I needed my own name.
So much truth revealed in that moment – the preciousness, the uniqueness of every human life from the moment of conception to end of natural life. The reality that our loved ones who have passed on do not stop being part of us. They continue to love because love is eternal. And they love us perfectly now, because they exist within God’s own heart – the source of perfect love. And, of course, the power of knowing someone’s name in deepening your relationship with them.