God’s greatest gift

A few random thoughts between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. 

The original off-Broadway production of “The Fantasticks,” launched in 1960, ran 42 years and 17,162 performances. That’s the world’s record for musicals. It is currently in an off-Broadway revival and going strong. 

There’s a good chance you have seen “The Fantasticks” — if not off-Broadway, then in a high school show or local theater. With its small cast, minimal sets and with orchestration needs less than an Irish Catholic wedding, it’s the perfect amateur show. I first saw it as a college kid with our English class as the performers. It wasn’t bad. 

If you are one of about 37 people that haven’t seen “The Fantasticks,” you have no doubt heard the wistful song that begins and ends the tale of love as it flows through life: “Try to remember the kind of September / When life was slow and oh, so mellow.” 

I was going through some old stuff the other day, searching for my birth certificate: proof not only that I am alive, but a red-blooded American citizen who should be allowed to travel outside the country. And return. My mother, bless her heart, had kept my original certificate, and it was in a file of stuff labeled for me that my brother sent along after she died in 2004. 

Whenever I dip into the old file that my mother put together I find out something new about my parents. I had never thought about my mother’s middle name. She was always “Evelyn Toburn Lockwood.” Like a dummy, I didn’t realize that her maiden name “Toburn” was not her middle name. Nobody ever explained it, since I was the fourth child. The fourth child generally knows nothing and generally needs to know nothing. 

But there it was on my birth certificate. She was “Evelyn Mary.” I never knew that. And a prettier name I couldn’t imagine. 

Also stuck in the file was a poem my Old Man had written. He did that on occasion, though he wasn’t the kind of man that you think would sit around writing poetry. He was more of a four-wall handball guy with a beer chaser. 

He wrote about watching a young couple on the beach, “walking, talking, touching, smiling.” Then he concluded: “I watch them leave — off they go / And think of us so long ago.” 

The Old Man died at 80, about 10 years before my mother. Evelyn Mary Toburn Lockwood was a few weeks shy of 90 when she died. She held on to that poem and shared it with her kids when she was gone. 

The older I get the more I have come to understand that the people that surround and fill our lives are God’s great gift to us. And often the gift that we most take for granted. Long before Kool and the Gang sang about it, the Faith was teaching us to “cherish the love.” 

Dante ended his great pilgrimage through hell, purgatory and heaven with a final vision: “At this point power failed high fantasy but, like a wheel in perfect balance turning, I felt my will and my desire impelled by the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.” 

I think about that, and think about the Old Man writing a sonnet to my mother decades after they met and married, and think about the love that weaves itself through our lives, a pale but real reflection of the Eternal Love that gives us hope, and maybe even turns us to poetry as the days go by. 

In “The Fantasticks” they conclude: “Deep in December, it’s nice to remember / Although you know the snow will follow…”

The snow follows. But the love remains.

“So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13: 13). 

Lord, I do miss them. 

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.