Friday, February 10, 2006

A New Job For Francis

Tomorrow, they will bury one of the coolest guys I ever met. He happened to be the father of my college roommate, Laurianna, but I like to think we were friends on our own terms.

When I see the hypocrisy and hatred done in the name of Christianity and the Catholic Church, I get very angry and try instead to think about those who live their lives by the original ideals - love, acceptance, humor and, most of all, a healthy exchange of ideas.

A handful of faces inevitably come to mind and Francis "Fran" Roman has always been one of them, along with his wife of 47 years, Lenora. Laurianna and I had always joked that her parents clearly had access to that heavenly direct line, The Red Phone - something that was brought out only in times of life or death.

Rewarded for his life of spiritual dedication, he was honored with a painless death, free of sickness and disease. Far from it - the man had undoubtedly gone running the day before or lifted weights in the gym on his final day on Earth. A citizen of Barstow, California, Fran was famous for running in ridiculous heat. "Sure, it was 114 degrees," he'd reason, "but it was 117 degress the day before and that's just way too hot."

The last time I saw him, in the spring of 2005, it affected me deeply. Laurianna was marrying Jim in Albuquerque and I was a bridesmaid. Though there were some cute boys paying me some attention, honestly, I preferred spending time with Lenora and Fran. We discussed politics of the day, the war in Iraq and the deep divide that was tearing the country apart. I could have talked with him for hours and never ceased learning. He had a gentle, soothing voice that made you feel respected, worthy . . . heard.

Fond of him as I was, he receives full blame for my spiritual breakdown that arrived with horrible timing. I knew Fran would be conducting the wedding service, as he was a deacon in the Church, but I certainly didn't see the Bible-based TKO that was headed straight for me.

Of course, he gave a riveting sermon, talking to us - as I'd praised him later - rather than preaching at us. Then came time for the Euchrist and he suggested to those attending that if they were not Catholic and simply wanted a blessing, to cross their arms against their chests. As I am highly suspicious of priests and their ilk, I already knew in my heart that I wanted very much a blessing - specifically because it was from Fran, a man who I admired and trusted. Other than Johnny Cash, there is no other man whom I would expose my spiritual side to in such a vulnerable way.

Because I stood nearest to the bride, he came to me first and I crossed my arms. As I bowed, he placed his hand on my head and spoke the blessing. Something weird began happening to my insides. Then, I raised my head, Fran looked straight into my eyes and spoke with conviction: "God loves you very much." Somewhere in my soul, a door, long rusted shut, creaked open, a draft came through and the tears came. And came. And came. And came.

He'd already moved on to others but I could not stop crying. Honestly, I sort of started to freak out, as did the 7-year-old flower girl next to me, who became increasingly concerned. Thankfully, it did not come with wracking gutteral sobs but holy cow, must my meltdowns always be in a public forums? I could just imagine what the guests must be thinking:

"So what's happening with that bridesmaid? She's kinda losing it up there."
"I dunno. Maybe she's just really close with the bride . . . ?"

My makeup long washed away, I began to worry about the amount of snot to be dealt with - an inordinately large amount. Also, what a failure as a bridesmaid. Laurianna wasn't asking for much, just walk down the gol'dern aisle, hold the pretty flowers and don't tip over - is that too much to ask? Oh yeah, and try not to drown yourself while you're at it.

Desperately, I looked around for a tissue and saw one clean white square held in the hand of Lenora, the bride's mother, who clearly had her self together. I creeped up to her and asked politely if I could have her tissue. Okay, so maybe I grabbed it and ran but it was all for the bride, I tell you.

Thankfully, the entire Roman family remained blissfully unaware of my spiritual meltdown but it affects me still. Even recalling it, my eyes fill up with tears. Fran spent his life teaching others, spreading the word and opening rusted doors. It was more than a calling for him, it was a joy. It's also pretty clear to anyone who knew Fran that he's got a new job now.

Answering the Red Phone.


Fang Bastardson said...

wow, that's truly a bummer. sorry for your loss.

Christopher Bradley said...

Fran Roman was one of my teachers at St. Pius High School in Albuquerque. I don't know what made me google his name today, wondering where he was now, but I did and your blog came up.

I have long since left the Catholic Church, but I still pray. (I said a rosary for a friend last night.) I have so much anger around religion, but when I imagined Fran saying "God loves you very much" to you and you starting to cry, I could feel Fran saying it to me, and I started to cry, too.

Thank you for passing on the gift Fran gave to you, to me.

Heather Clisby said...

Wow! Christopher, what a beautiful note to receive! First, I'm so happy that this post comes up should anyone search for Fran Roman - that is wonderful.

And of course, the fact that you remember Fran and how much God and spiritual health meant to him. Seems he is still here doing God's work. I'm no fan of the Catholic church or organized religion but it's magical connections like this that make me believe in the power of Love.

I passed along your note to Laurianna, his daughter, who is a firefighter/EMT in ABQ and she was so grateful. She will share with her mom and brother, also.

Blessings to you, Christopher! Thanks again for taking the time to put his all into words.