“My name is Stanley Menard, and I want to tell you that I can see it now. I can really see it and the wonder of it all. But let me go back to how it all happened.”
I grew up in a typical sleepy little New England town in the Blackstone Valley. There were two forms of religious paths to follow, catholic or one of the protestant teachings. In our small town of Uxbridge, Catholicism was the most followed form. Add to that the fact that my mother was the daughter of Irish immigrants. You can understand that I had no choice as to which path I would follow. From a very young age, I was raised in all the “ways of the church,” as my mother always called it. I have an Easter morning photo of myself and my three sisters dressed in the clothes my mother worked on for months, sewing for us to wear at Easter service. People in those days dressed for church. I looked like a miniature version of Frank Sinatra, with my white shirt and tie, a light brown suit with a matching soft hat, and shiny black shoes. My sisters are all in pastels with white straw hats decorated with daisies.
My mother is standing with us but not my father. The reason wasn’t just that he was taking the picture, but he was a Unitarian. Not only was he not a catholic, but he rarely went to the Unitarian church either. So, you can just imagine my mother’s house when she told my Irish grandfather that she was going to marry a protestant boy. Years ago in England, the king accepted the protestant religion to divorce his wife and later sanctioned the northern county of Ireland to be a haven where protestant people could worship in peace. But, of course, the opposite effect took place, and the Irish Catholics wanted their county back, which led to many bloody battles. Every coin has two sides, including the religious one; one side represents love and the other hate. I am always at odds with how the teachings of the Son of God, love, and understanding of your fellow man could be seen so differently as to cause people to want to kill one another.
It was with these concepts that I entered my teenage years. After years of going to catechism, I concluded that I didn’t particularly appreciate being told what to do—especially by people who didn’t practice what they preached. Case in point, they taught us that no one knows the mind of God, then spent hours driving into us all the things that God wants us to do or not to do. I wondered how they could know what God wants us to do or not to do if no one knows the mind of God?
My mother was so devoted that my sisters and myself called her the thirteenth apostle. We would attend three masses weekly and the seven a.m. mass on Sunday morning. Believe me when I tell you that it was painfully boring for a young boy.
Once I obtained my driver’s license and bought a used car, I told my mother I didn’t like going to first mass. It was too early, and I would drive myself to the ten o’clock service. Thinking I was being so clever on Sunday, I would go to the church, pick up the church bulletin to see what Father Lucey’s sermon would be, and proceed to ride around waiting for mass to be over. I'd drive through the country side looking for hunting or fishing grounds. Or sometimes I'd drive into the state of Rhode Island since it was just across the border and would use up the proper amount of time until I needed to arrive back home.
One Sunday morning, I stopped at a place known as the “quarry.” It was an old abandoned granite quarry and, when mining it, they struck a large underground spring. The whole thing filled in with water. And believe me, it was pretty deep. Even though it was posted, “keep out,” we kids often swam there on hot summer days. The water was bitterly cold. Naturally, with all the bare granite showing, it was a great target for graffiti and it was everywhere. Everywhere except for a piece of protruding ledge where you could dive from. It was shaped like an upside-down triangle with the sides at very sharp angles. So sharp that it indeed seemed impossible to place any graffiti there.
It was later that summer and the temperatures were turning cooler, so there weren’t as many swimmers as usual when I arrived. I noticed some new graffiti where someone had taken a line from Fredrick Neichze and made it his own by writing,” God is dead-Bruce!” I smiled because it seemed strange to see God mentioned along with the other vulgar words and pictures. I returned a few weeks later. Early autumn was in full swing, and the trees had started turning to yellows and reds. I stopped in my tracks when I noticed that someone had spray-painted on that inaccessible precipice, “Bruce is dead-God.” Baffled, I grasped my head and pondered the thought. What did that mean? What if God stopped believing in you? Do you cease to exist? It reminded me of Daniel 5:5-12, where a disembodied hand appeared at the feast of Belshazzar and wrote a message on the wall. Belshazzar was fearful and sent for the prophet Daniel to tell him what the writing meant. Daniel told him that God sent this communication, and the interpretation declared that Belshazzar’s days were numbered. And, indeed, he died that very night.
Now, I didn’t know this fellow Bruce or that he even existed. It might have all been a prank but, for this message to almost miraculously appear out nowhere, it scared the hell out of me!
I decided to forgo the different churches and religions with their dos and don’ts and deal directly with the Big Man. I fell to my knees, clasped my hands tightly, and prayed, “I believe in you, God, please believe in me.” I recalled an old phrase I read where God makes a promise, “I will carve your image into the palm of my hand, and will think of you often.” Then, with tears streaming down my face, I said,” Thank you, God.”
Since then, I haven’t really changed much, but I still hold onto the truth that I believe in God and I hope He believes in me.