About four years after my mother died, the memory still fresh, I found a wrench in New Mexico with my father and grandfather’s names etched on it. This was odd since they had each passed away decades earlier in Chicago. The wrench had the names Joe and Budd scratched on it, or it might have said Buddy, because it looked like there had been a ‘y’ that was now mostly etched away with rust. My grandfather’s name was Joe, my father’s nickname was Bud, and my late brother-in-law’s dog’s name (his closest friend) was Buddy. After my mother died, I understood that my brother-in-law took all my father’s and grandfather’s tools, which a few years later went to his relatives, and I never got any of them.
When I found this wrench, I was in a memoir writing class at the university. It must have been about a year after my brother-in-law had passed away. When I pulled it out of a basket (there were various objects in the basket to chose from to spark the basis of a writing exercise), and saw what was on it, I was electrified - it was as if a spiritual message had just been delivered to me from my grandfather Joe and my father Bud, and maybe even my brother-in-law, that they had wanted me to get those tools, and now were giving me a gift from the spirit of ‘tools’ in the creative writing sense. I wasn’t ready yet to write that story.
The wrench sat on my dresser for years. When I took a look at it again recently, I saw that it actually might be a name: Joe Budd. I searched the Internet and happened upon a Joe Budd who had photographed minerals in New Mexico. I sent him an email with a picture of the wrench and the short explanation, and asked him, “Might this have belonged to you at one time?”
The next day I was rewarded with a surprising reply. Joe Budd wrote back. He said, “The wrench was not mine, but I thought immediately of my dad – whose name is also Joe Budd – and his dad’s name was Joe Budd . . . My family is from the Northeast, so the likelihood of this wrench being connected to us is pretty slim. It’s a funny reminder of my dad though, because if there was one object I’d associate with my dad, it’s hand tools like a saw, screwdriver or wrench! I’m glad you were presented with this strange and random gift from the universe.”
Budd went on to identify the wrench as a 5/8” box-end Craftsman wrench, and said he had one just like it, with the same amount of rust on it, but that he’d never taken the time to engrave his name on his tools. He ended his email, “Thanks to all the Joe Budds out there.”
It certainly had a special meaning that connected each of us, each in our own way, to our fathers and grandfathers.
For me that wrench was charged with the memories of my mother’s final days, which had brought us close together again after we had been estranged for many years. She was dying of lung cancer, and in between semesters and on holidays, I came home to Chicago from New Mexico to visit.
On the eighth night of Chanukah, during the Christmas break, as I lit the candles, from her hospital bed in the darkening late afternoon she had a vision of something that hovered before her and she reached up and patted it lovingly in the air. She was embarrassed when I asked her what she saw, and she replied, with a profound brilliance I had never appreciated before, “Oh it’s just my own little idea, that the Spirit of Chanukah comes to those who celebrate all eight nights.”
I told her I thought it was the Shekinah, the feminine aspect of God that comes closest to us, who had appeared, and to think of it when she became fearful. She replied, “The white bird, and not the circling black crows that come after?” It had seemed to me there were white wings behind her, and that an angel had come to visit.
Later I spoke to her rabbi, Rabbi Serotta of Lakeside Congregation, who said that in the Jewish tradition it is written that angels come to comfort you and to reduce your fears when you are dying.
What this also tells me is that we each have mental filters that shape our experience of reality, and that beyond this malleable reality, I believe, is a truer more spiritual reality that I understand as a creative consciousness that permeates everything. It’s not exactly the way God was explained to me in Sunday school, but by finding a positive meaning in signs and coincidences, God speaks to me now in a language that I can understand.
Diane Schmidt is an internationally published and award-winning writer and photojournalist.
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Schmidt has been a regularly contributor to The Link since 2010, where this column appears monthly. A shorter version of this story was in the Gallup Independent Dec 7, 2013, Spiritual Perspectives column, page 20, where she has been a regular contributor since 2009.
The latter part of this story, about my mother's final days, is condensed from an original story I wrote, “The Animals that came for Edith,” for my master's thesis in English in the creative writing program at UNM, and which in a shortened form as “The Spirit of Chanukah” was a finalist selection for an anthology by Bernie Siegel, M.D., “Faith, Hope, and Healing,” that "shares the inspiring stories of people who have experienced cancer and found deeper faith, hope, joy, and healing through the process."