Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Call from Beyond

Yesterday I got a call from Frank. Normally I would welcome hearing from Frank Fiorini; he had been like family to me, a favorite uncle. Frank was a fixture at my parish: the parish financial manager, trainer of the altar servers, co- founder of an organization named Uplift which serves the homeless population of KCK, and countless other things. Frank, a faithful attender of daily Mass, always greeted me with a hug and a gruff but kind word. He was like a burnt marsh-mellow, a little crispy on the exterior, but inside nothing but a bunch of sweet goo.

I miss Frank. He died last February. He felt bad one night, went to bed and slept his way to heaven. It was a great way to go, but I was irritated that I didn’t get to say good-bye. I never got the chance to descend on his house with food that he really didn’t want, or any of the other things we church women do for our own when they’re in need. You can imagine my surprise when his name popped up on my Caller ID.

I didn’t answer the first time. I stared at the phone. There it was – Fiorini, Frank. My thoughts raced. Was this possibly what Jesus meant when He said to be ready? Could I just be sitting at my desk one minute, and the next Frank calls from the great beyond and says, “Hey, it’s time to go.” Just like Frank would. No time to get all sappy and upset about it. It’s just time to go. No time to finish the scrap books, get the drawers in order or put color coded Post-Its on every possession I want to pass on.
The phone rang again. It was Frank. I figured I’d better answer it; how many times can you refuse to pick up when your deceased friend calls and feel okay about it? What if it was my time and I didn’t answer and Frank got mad and they sent someone else, someone I didn’t like as much? I picked up.

A familiar voice greeted me, but it wasn’t Frank’s. It was a mutual friend, calling from Frank’s house. Apparently, it was not my time to check out.  It was, however, my time to collect the donations for Uplift from our parish. Frank used to do it, now it’s my job. He never asked me to take over the task, but he used to call me when he was going out of town to see if I would go down, make sure the kids who wanted to help on volunteer day got a ride, things like that. Just a few of the hundred little things Frank took care of in our parish that everyone took for granted. They were always taken care of; until Frank wasn’t there to do them anymore. I’m sure there are dozens of people like me, who loved Frank, assimilating themselves into a small slice of the huge life he encompassed in a very quiet way.

Today my boys and I are going to load up my van with the donations for Uplift that are piling up in the church foyer and deliver them to the un-air conditioned warehouse in Kansas City. There will be volunteers working to load the three vans full of food and supplies that will go out for tonight’s run. Others will have prepared the hot meal for 150+ homeless people that will be served from the trucks. There will be basic supplies, candles, canned food, socks, t-shirts, bug spray, toiletries, all donated, sorted and distributed by volunteers from un-air conditioned trucks in 108 degree heat. The Uplift trucks go out three nights a week, rain or shine, heat wave or snow storm. The volunteers come from all over, all sorts of people from all walks of life.
Project Uplift, which Frank helped found, has grown to a huge organization, all volunteer run. For years Frank was involved in every aspect. He knew the homeless community; he drove the trucks and handed out the food.   Frank didn’t just feed the poor, he loved them like family – treated them as his neighbors. He didn’t talk about it, he just did it. He was the ultimate “fisher of men”; yet I never heard him say “Come and follow me”. Frank had already heard that call and he just kept on following.
Frank wasn’t one to talk about himself or his accomplishments, he just kept doing what he thought was right. He was an integral member of the Body of Christ that is my parish. I think of him when I look over to the pew he sat in for morning mass or walk by his old office. I miss the way he would tap his watch and shake his head when I was late for mass, which was often.  But he would scoot over in the pew and have a nudge and a smile for me.
 Frank was a foundational part of my church family. I learned from him small lessons, like always use my right hand in the holy water (something over looked in my instructions when converting to Catholicism) and big things, like what it means to feed the poor in a real and engaged manner. I miss him like I missed the expansive weeping willow tree in my back yard after it was struck by lightning: he was a fixture in the landscape of my church community. I miss him, but I see him in so many ways, living on in the ministries he fostered.  I don’t know if I will get a heads up phone call when my time comes to move on to heaven, but if I do, I hope it comes from Frank.  

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