On November 1st we will celebrate the Feast of All Saints. For many years I had deeply believed that we are all destined to be saints – without exception. That regardless of the circumstances of our life or our death, and even in our darkest moment of brokenness, God embraces us and finds a way, either in this life or the next, to heal us and bring us home.
But in the early years of my ministry as a deacon, I witnessed a lot of pain and suffering. There were suicides, a murder and lives destroyed and taken by drugs. And I began to struggle with doubts that the individual soul can survive tragedy and untimely death, and be reunited with God and at peace for all eternity. Then one day, almost twenty years ago, I experienced something very powerful. So powerful that it erased those doubts. This powerful experience involved a dream I had shortly after the death of a friend named ‘Fox’.
Fox was a 45 year-old homeless man who lived for nine years at the George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal. He had lost a leg and survived each day by spinning his wheelchair in and out of traffic and up and down subway ramps, begging for loose change.
I first met Fox early one Sunday morning while I was bringing coffee and sandwiches to homeless people living alongside the bus terminal. I spotted a man bundled up in a blanket and asleep in a big cardboard box. I tapped on the box, introduced myself and offered him some coffee. He thanked me and I asked his name. He said, “Fox.”
Two weeks later I was bringing breakfast to the same place and saw him again. He was sleeping and I gently woke him by calling his name, “Fox, Fox.” He woke up, smiled and said in amazement, “You remembered my name.
Over the years Fox had become a dear friend to me and to many members of our parish Outreach Team. We would often see him on Sunday mornings as we distributed food and clothing around the terminal. I would see him on weekday mornings as I went to work, and often brought him peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from home.
Sometimes after a long day at work I would drag myself up the subway ramp leading into the bus terminal. Fox would see me and say he was worried about me because I looked so tired. This man who had so little was worried about me who had so much.
One day I learned that Fox had died in the streets near the terminal of an apparent drug overdose. With the help of the NYPD detectives I was able to locate Fox’s body at the City Morgue where it had been for a month, an unidentified casualty of the streets. His body had been scheduled for cremation a few days prior to my arrival, and the coroner was baffled as to why it was still there — as if it were waiting for something or someone.
With the kindness of Barrett’s Funeral Home and the generosity of our Carmelite Fathers, I was able to bring Fox’s body to Tenafly to be buried with dignity. Father Kurt, our pastor at the time, celebrated a memorial Mass and 35 adults and young people from the Parish Outreach Team were present. Fox’s body is buried here in Mount Carmel Cemetery.
An Episcopal Church near the bus terminal permitted me to hold a memorial service for Fox and to invite all the homeless men and women who knew him. At the service, one of Fox’s friends shared an emotional eulogy. He told us how ‘Brother Fox’ had given his friends courage and inspiration to take responsibility for building a better life for themselves; how he had been a loving, caring friend; and how much he was loved.
Several months after Fox’s death I had an amazing dream. I was walking in a beautiful sunlit meadow and heard someone calling my name. In the distance I saw Fox waving to me from his wheelchair. He had a blanket over his lap.
As I got closer I heard him shouting, “Lex, Lex, come here. I got something I want to show you!” As I approached, Fox pulled the blanket off his lap, stood up and danced around with joy. He had two legs and he was whole. I woke up with the most wonderful, peaceful, joyful feeling I have ever experienced.
I believe Fox really came to me in that dream to thank me and to give me a gift. It was the gift of showing me how much he was loved by God; and the knowledge that despite the circumstances of his death, God had healed Fox and welcomed him home. And maybe it was the Holy Spirit’s way of telling me, through Fox, that everything I had believed is really true. That we are all destined to be saints – without exception.
Be at peace if there is a loved one in your life who left this world under tragic or untimely circumstances. For even in our darkest moment of brokenness, our loving God heals us and makes us whole. Just like he did for my friend Fox.
All Saints Day
Readers of this blog might enjoy these books by Deacon Lex. Both are available on Amazon.com:
Just to Follow My Friend: Experiencing God’s Presence in Everyday Life
Synchronicity as the Work of the Holy Spirit: Jungian Insights for Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Ministry