He no longer had a phone number for Bro. Salvatore, so he sent him an email asking if could come for a visit. They settled on a date and Gregory drove the nearly three hours to DC to see him. When he arrived, he had to pee… badly, so he went in through the gift shop and did so. He went back out and walked up to the friary entrance then rang the door bell. A black gentleman answered the door and asked,
“May I help you?”
“Hi. I’m here to see Bro. Salvatore.”
“Is he expecting you?”
“Yes, he is.”
“And your name is?”
“Come in. I’ll tell him you’re here.”
The lobby hadn’t changed much. The life-size statue of St. Francis was still the first thing that greeted you upon entering. He noticed that the gilding on the capitals of the columns that had been done years ago still looked good. There were new computers and another new phone system. He remembered, with fondness, the old switchboard. Soon enough, Sal was waling down the hall to greet him.
“Why are you squinting? Where are your glasses?” Gregory teased.
“The radiation treatments screw up my eyes so I can’t wear them right now,” Sal answered. “So he has cancer again,” he thought. “He didn’t tell me, because he knew I’d cancel if I knew he was sick. No time to think about that now, though.”
“You look good,” Sal said as he gave Gregory a big hug.
“Liar, I got old,” he replied. He could do that with Sal.
“You look the same.” It was Gregory’s turn.
“Now who’s lying?!” he teased right back and they laughed.
Gregory had arrived in time for lunch so they headed to the refectory. As they passed the mailboxes, they saw Fr. Stefano. He was much older now and used a walker to help him get around.
“Do you remember this guy, Father?” Sal inquired loudly and close to his ear.
The priest looked at Gregory,
“No,” was his reply.
“That’s okay, Father, it’s been a long time,” Gregory assured him.
“He can’t remember anything,” Sal said to Gregory. “He has dementia. Don’t you motherfucker?” he asked the old priest.
“Don’t worry about it. He’s deaf, too,” he said chuckling.
“Yeah, but still…” Gregory just shook his head as they continued on their way. “He’ll never change,” Gregory thought.
When the two arrived at their destination, Gregory saw Bro. Samuel and Fr. Miguel already eating. Gregory made a bee-line to the table and reintroduced himself to his old friends. Samuel suggested he get some soup and a sandwich, then come back and sit down. They caught up on a few things. Gregory and Samuel had kept in touch, but not he and Miguel. When Fr. Jacob came into the refectory, Salvatore jumped and introduced him to Gregory, giving him credit for single-handedly restoring the church. Gregory made sure to that Fr. Jacob knew that he just been a consultant to Bro. Louis. He did accept credit, however, for restoring some of the catacombs.
When Fr. Miguel had finished eating, he announced,
“I have to go. I have confessions. It was good to see you again Gregory. Take care of yourself.”
“By the way,” Miguel called to them as he was leaving, giving them a final dig as he walked away. “I can’t tell one of you from the other. You both look so much alike!” Then he chuckled, but Sal didn’t until after he had left.
After lunch, Sal and Samuel walked Gregory down to the Tour Lobby for some photos. Fr. Miguel was walking to the chapel so Gregory asked him if he would mind taking pictures of the three of them, quickly. When Gregory felt that he had enough photos to last him until his next visit, Samuel and Gregory hugged and said goodbye. Sal took Gregory over to the Franciscan Hall to see the exhibit of artifacts made in the Holy Land from mother-of-pearl. Gregory was amazed at the exhibit, but he really wanted to just hang out with Sal so when they were finished, they walked back to Sal’s office and sat down for a chat.
“So how are you doing, really?” Gregory asked with concern.
“About as well as can be expected, I guess. I don’t actually live here anymore, though.”
“Where do you live then?” Gregory asked.
“I live at the hospital with four other guys who are in the same boat. We’re in an experimental program.”
“But you’re holding your own?”
“For now,” Sal replied with a forced smile.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked, even though he already knew the answer.
“Because I wanted to see you.”
“I wanted to see you too. I’ve missed you!”
They caught up some more. Sal asked about Denny. Gregory assured him that he was doing well despite the MS. And he asked about the goats, of course. He wanted to know if they were “fainting” goats, but Gregory told him that those were too expensive. He just had plain old pygmies. Gregory asked about Sal’s work. He complained about getting correspondence from the Holy Land. It was in Italian and that had to farm it out to be translated. So Gregory showed him that he could use Bing Translator and do it himself, thereby saving the custody money. Soon enough the conversation turned to other subjects.
Gregory asked Sal about the brothers he didn’t see at lunch. One by one, Sal told him of a friar being in Texas, or Bethlehem, or Jerusalem, but no longer there. It made Gregory sad to know that his former friends were now scattered to the four winds and there was no longer anyone there to take care of his former home. There was now a board of governors for the monastery and one for the Commissariat of the Holy Land. This was all a little much for Gregory to take in and even though the monastery had been declared an official pilgrimage site by the Holy See, it was still hard for him to be happy about the current state of affairs.
“But how are you doing?” Gregory asked, trying to change the subject.
“I’m as well as can be expected. But you know, God sets out these ‘jewels of life’ for us to see, but it’s up to us to take them time, slow down, and see them. They’re not hidden, they’re not hard to see, but sometimes we’re just too busy to recognize that they’ve been right in front of us the whole time. We just have to open our eyes and look. Now, I’m not going to say it isn’t harder to see them when I’m in pain. It is! And they may be few and far between, but they are well worth the wait and they far outshine the pain and mundaneness of ill health.
“Is life worth living? YES! Pain and suffering are only moments in time and to reuse the phrase, ‘It gets better,’ in the end I have discovered that not all pain is bad. It can be the great motivator of life. It can move us to places that we would never have gone on our own and makes us discover talents we didn’t know we had. But if we embrace it, well, all I can say is that result can be spectacular!”
“Wow, Sal, when did you become such an incredible philosopher?!”
“You have a lot of time to think, pray, and meditate when you’re sick.”
All Gregory could do was nod his head. Sal shared more of his wisdom and the time flew by. The next time he looked up at the clock it was time to go. Sal asked to security guard to take e a few more pictures of the two of them before Gregory left. They hugged and vowed to keep in touch. On the long drive home, Gregory had plenty of time to ponder the visit and his decision to leave all those years ago and seek out someone special to share his life with. He had found his someone special, his better half, the one who completed him. He had no regrets about that decision. And he knew he would keep in touch with Sal at least once a month from now on. After all, they were friends.