I haven’t seen my Pop in 20 years or so. I’ve forgiven him for skipping out on his fatherly duties and have accepted that he walks a path that leads him far away from home. His dreams were always much bigger than the reality his small suburban family could provide.
He taught English through a bilingual program he developed at Boston English High School. He spoke passionately about the growing Latino movement in Boston. He was nominated for Massachusetts Teacher of the Year and invited by Harvard University to do a lecture series about his work. His students loved him, his peers respected him, and his family thought he was nuts.
Pop walked down the street pinching a joint in one hand and flashing a peace sign in the other. His signature look was a “No Nukes” sweatshirt, overalls, and long curly hair wrapped up in a red bandanna. No apologies. Crazy genius, I like to call him, but as a father he pretty much sucked.
In 2001, my husband introduced me to Dorchester’s Mother Caroline Academy and Education Center, a tuition-free middle school for bright girls of limited financial means. He’d been involved with the school’s fundraising mission for some time and brought me to their annual spring event in Jamaica Plain. I remember being greeted by a bunch of smiling girls in plaid kilts, knee socks, and oversized red blazers with shoulder pads – all singing, chattering, laughing, and doing double dutch. Suddenly an nun came out of nowhere and jumped between the ropes. She was really good. A couple of other nuns ran in and did the same. I laughed out loud. And so the love affair with MCAEC began.
After several years of volunteering for the Academy as a fundraiser, I longed for a real connection with the students. So in 2009, I signed up to mentor a student.
My girlfriends Kelly and Cate also decided the time was right to reach out to one of these amazing Mother Caroline girls. The three of us attended a meet and greet with the entire 8th grade class and after a few awkward conversations, I came upon a charming girl, Leidi – well, “came upon” might be an unfair way to put it. Honestly, I practically gave Cate the Heisman to get to her, interrupting their conversation and inserting myself between them. The reason for my boldness, though unknown to me at the time, would be revealed later.
Leidi and I chatted easily for a long while, sharing some pretty personal things about each other and discovering we had loads in common. She’s an old soul. Thoughtful, inquisitive, interesting, genuine, beautiful. I cornered the head of the mentoring program at the end of the game and gushed to her that I had a great conversation with Leidi and would love to have her as my mentee. As it turned out, she liked me, too. So we were matched and spent the next few years getting to know each other.
One Sunday afternoon, Leidi and I were in the car together, talking about high schools. I mentioned that Pop taught bilingual students at Boston English. She said, “My Mom went to Boston English.” Some quick math led us to realize that our parents were there at the same time. And Leidi’s Mom being Puerto Rican, the likelihood of her knowing my Pop was good. Really good. Really really good.
About 8:30 that night Leidi called and told me that her Mom had class with my Pop, “Mr. Cronin,” and remembered times staying after school with him when he’d tell her about my family and his days living in Honduras with the Peace Corps. Not only that, but she also spent a couple of years as a counselor at Pop’s Campemento Hispano Internacional, providing summer camp experiences for Spanish-speaking inner-city youth. I had also spent a fair amount of time at that summer camp as a kid, assisting counselors and shadowing Pop. Weeiiiirrrrrd.
I’d just spent the last couple of days blogging about coincidences so I was certainly conscious of the ones happening in my life and was well-studied on synchronicities. And right there, on my family room couch, I was living through a pretty major one. I hung up the phone with Leidi and chewed on the idea for a minute. Then I proceeded to burst into tears. Fat ones. A full-on contorted-face-heaving-chest ugly cry.
I surveyed my mind to figure out why I was having a fit and realized that I was feeling the loving presence of my Pop for the first time in 20 years. I felt our intangible connection through the Universe. I saw the parallels between us, our mutual desire to make the world a better place, and the genetic gifts he passed to me that have allowed me to live my best life. I understood in that moment that God’s power is great. That there are no coincidences. That Leidi is my karmic gift – one that I am so happy to accept.
The things that had to happen and the timing of which those things had to occur was perfect. Divine. How on earth could something like this happen without God? God is perfection, organizing events in just the right way, even though to us it looks like total chaos. But it’s not total chaos, it’s divine chaos.
For me there has been a paradigm shift. Leidi fell away from my Mother Caroline family neatly settled into my soul family. We are part of each others’ weaving labyrinth of life and always have been. And now we know. Now there’s no question, no surprise that I practically gave my dear friend a black eye to get to her at that football game over a year ago. Everything is written.
I’ve thought about this series of coincidences and decided this. Change (in some cases loss) is inevitable. Embrace it. Everything will be okay. And sometimes, what you think is lost forever is really not lost at all. God will bring it back to you in one form… or another.
From mine to yours,
p.s. Please share this story.
p.s.s. This is Leidi and me – then and now.