When I was in 6th grade, my 3rd grade teacher took me out on my first date. I had moved to another area and had not seen her for three years. Out of the blue, she called and asked me if I wanted to go to dinner and then meet someone. I was more shy than I am now and didn't want to go. My mother told me to have courage, that my 3rd grade teacher was a terrific person, and that it would be a great experience. I figured that they were in cahoots about something.
We went to the Alpine Inn in Springfield, PA, and I tried to not sound like a fool as I blushed my way through crispy fried chicken and cold peas. Then she drove me to meet a man who would profoundly affect my life. His name was Father Robert Greene. He was a Maryknoll Missionary who had been stationed in Tungan, in the Kwangsi Province in China. For 15 years, Father Greene had been preaching and dispensing medicine. In 1950, Communists placed him under house arrest and issued an order that no foreigners or Chinese could speak to him. For 17 months he was only allowed 10 minutes of freedom every third day. Then he was taken before a firing squad where he was told that he was going to be executed for being a spy. But instead of shooting him, he was blindfolded, and angry mobs cursed him and made false accusations about him over eight days. Finally, he was marched through three cities and thrown over the border, where he finally found his way to Hong Kong.
Father Green's story was recounted in a 1952 issue of Life Magazine. He was then encouraged to write a book about his experience. He called it Calvary in China. Father Greene handed me a signed copy of his book that day. He told me about adversity and faith and not giving up, even when all looks lost.
I figured out later why my teacher and mother wanted me to eat crispy fried chicken and cold peas. It was so that I could meet a Maryknoll priest and decide to become a priest myself. It didn't work. I had discovered girls in 4th grade, so the priesthood was out of the question. What they hadn't counted on was how impressed I was to meet a person who had written a book. I had always planned on becoming a teacher. Now, I decided to add writer to my career goals.
As a teacher, I have met many students who have had their own Calvaries. I have watched 6th grade little kids and hulking seniors face hardships that seemed overwhelming. Dealing with sudden divorce or the death of a parent. Tragic accidents where a classmate was suddenly gone from a car crash. Multiple surgeries to fix legs and straighten spines and heal hearts. Each of these kids endured physical and emotional hurts that might have crippled an adult. Each had the courage to face their hardships, to not give up.
Six weeks ago I received a diagnosis of prostate cancer. In three days, I am going to have robotic surgery to have it removed. I remembered Father Greene when I woke up this morning. I remembered him looking me in the eye and telling me about the importance of faith and not giving up, no matter how scary the situation. Joseph Campbell wrote, "Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging."
I am lucky to have met Father Greene and so many brave students as I prepare for this procedure and the healing that will follow. I will not be writing blogs for a while. I ask for your good thoughts and prayers as I face this Calvary, knowing that faith and the love of family and friends will give me the courage I need to conquer this.
Copyright (c) 2011 by James Hugh Comey