So September 6, the Shea Fambly got on a plane bound for Chicago via Phoenix to witness the nuptials of the Beloved Cow and Miss Claire Kelly. It was me, Jan, Luke, Tasha, Lucy The Cuteness, Pete, and Sean. We took off at 11:20, made our connections, got into O’Hare on time, successfully made the high-speed hand-off of the car seat for the Cuteness from Claire’s mom Sarah, negotiated the airport transportation to Alamo Car Rental, got the cheapo upgrade to the Ginormous Suburban Assault Vehicle that could hold all of us and our luggage and plugged in the borrowed (and awesome) Garmin GPS system in order to find our way to Marytown up in Libertyville (about 40 mins north). Lucy performed like a champ and didn’t melt down even though it took till about midnight to find our way to our rooms. I suspect McDonald’s probably helped that (by the way, could there be a more disastrous marketing idea than “Chicken McWrap”? The jokes just write themselves: “Chicken McWrap! Spread it on your McGarden!” Sorry. The product of a sleep-deprived Shea mind. I’ll be better tomorrow.)
Anyway, we made our way to Marytown, and thanks to the help of a generous bunch of Franciscans, had rooms to stay in and meals to eat once we got here. This was no doubt assisted by their love of Cow and Claire, who seem to be universally popular throughout the Chicago area. In fact, the next morning, when we went to the Field Museum, all I had to do was say, “I’m Cow’s dad” and they let us all in for free and allowed Lucy to climb freely on Sue the T. Rex.
Actually, that last part is fiction. Still sleep-deprived.
However, the part about the museum is true. We went there on Friday morning and spent the day checking out the awesome dinosaur exhibit and the equally awesome Charles Knight paintings. Then we made our way back to Marytown, dressed respectably, and went to the rehearsal, where I was relieved to discover that fathers of the groom have virtually no actual responsibility besides walking in first with my beautiful wife on my arm to distract people from the fact that the groom’s father is kind of a doofus. I memorized my part quickly, watched the groomsmen and ladied in waiting do their choreography and then we headed for the Kellys (Bob and Sarah, Claire’s extremely wonderful parents) and he rehearsal dinner. It was a big, backyard barbecue with pavilion tents to keep the threatening storm off. The food was wonderful and the family more wonderful still. We Sheas and Kellys cottoned to each other licketysplit. Bob is the original Bob the Builder and the best thing he and Sarah have built is this boisterous family of Catholic kids who all love and care for each other (and bonk into each other in joyous kidly ways). Claire is their oldest and they love Cow as much as we love Claire. So the party was a hoot with beer freely flowing and a lot of laughter. After hours of merriment and a considerable amount of drink drunk by the company (not me, of course: designated driver), it was time for us to pack it in. We made it back to Marytown, happy and about as tired as I’ve ever been.
Next day, I got up early and decided to walk off the glucose from the cookies the night before. So I walked up to Mundelein Seminary (practically a stone’s throw from Marytown) and meandered the campus, savoring the deer in the morning light, listening to the bell toll the quarter hours, and looking out over the lake in the middle of the campus, all accompanied by a rosary (I generally say it on walks as it sort of clears my head of the hurly burly and gets me refocused on reality). Eventually, it was heading on toward breakfast and the last sprint toward fulfilling all the logistics, so I headed back to Marytown. A quick breakfast and then I became Cab Driver to the Nations, speeding Jan to the Kellys, Tasha to the Church for music prep (she sang a gorgeous “Ave Maria”); back to get Jan and take her to the reception hall, back to get Tasha, then Tasha decided to stay, then on to Cow’s hotel to deliver his shirt, then back to Marytown to get Luke, Lucy, Pete and Sean (and a shower and monkey suit), then on to the Church.
The whole joyous crowd was there (including a considerable contigent of Washingtonians who constituted the groomsmen). It was like a little foretaste of Heaven–reunions with people you love, transfigured and in a new land, everyone dressed in their finest, lot of little kids running around, everyone beautiful and so happy. I gave Cow my dadastolic blessing (a smooch on both cheeks and a bear hug) and did something similar for Claire. Then it all began.
It was a glorious Mass in a very small Church (St. Patrick’s in Lake Forest). Fr. Anthony Maria of Marytown officiated. He’s known the bride and groom for several years now, a droll Filipino with a taste for banana ketchup (!), a deep faith in Jesus, and a sense of humor that cracks me up. Also, his mind works different from the rest of us, so I like that. He mentioned in the homily the enormous odds against them ever existing (“you might have been a lava rock, a carrot, or a giraffe”) and the equally enormous odds against them ever meeting and pointed out what a gift of Providence their marriage is. Both hilarious and profound. Right during the vows, Lucy attempted to climb off my lap onto Jan’s and managed to slip and clock herself on the pew, resulting in howls. Much quiet bustle attempting to alleviate her pain. Despite all that, the vows were said and the beautiful couple settled in for the rest of the Mass and made their first communion as husband and wife. Finally, the Mass was ended and the couple, looking as happy and radiant as it is possible to look walked out into a new world, made new by the fact that they are now in it together.
After that, it was the reception–a major blowout with great food, a lot of wine and beer, some wonderful toasts, and the presence of fifty bazillion family and friends who all enjoyed each other’s company. The bride and groom shared a first dance that was beautiful to watch, followed by the bride and her dad (which I always find moving). Even left-footed me tried my hand a bit.
Eventually, Lucy hit the wall and needed to go home, so we reluctantly packed it in and headed back to Marytown, leaving Luke behind to hang with his brother for a while longer and catch a ride with somebody else. When we got back, I basically pitched forward onto the bed and died.
Next morning, Jan and I were up bright and early to take some of the wedding party to O’Hare. They met us outside the Embassy in Deerfield, looking green around the gills and the ride to the airport was… strangely silent. I tried to brighten things up by suggesting exercise, Sousa Marches, or show tunes, but mostly got grunts. Kids: don’t drink too much. This has been a public service announcement.
After we dropped those poor souls at the airport we headed back to Marytown. Mass was at 9, so I crashed again, only to be wakened about 8:45 by my son urgently insisting that Mass already in progress. We rushed downstairs and into the sanctuary–only to find that what my son took for Mass was in fact the Morning Office. So we had fifteen minutes to combubulate ourselves and then Mass began. It was beautiful (as Mass always is to me) and the sanctuary at Marytown was lovely as ever.
I was struck by this reading:
Thus says the LORD:
Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
with divine recompense
he comes to save you.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.
Streams will burst forth in the desert,
and rivers in the steppe.
The burning sands will become pools,
and the thirsty ground, springs of water.
Still thinking about that. Especially the “fear not” part.
Then it was down the hall to a quick breakfast. After that, the fambly packed their stuff out to the car, I offered a few hyper-controlling words of advice to my competent and patient wife who needed none my hyper-controlling advice, but who bears with me when I am stressed about my family traveling thousands of miles. We all hugged and kissed and blessed one another, and before I knew it, they were driving away, leaving me here at Marytown for the next few days till I speak on Wednesday and return on Thursday, a happy man with a beautiful new daughter.
Now I’m just hanging out at Marytown, writing from here, plowing through work and mail and back to the quiet writerly life. The grounds are lovely here, so I will probably go take a walk soon and maybe even indulge myself in a nap. Then it’s back to work and the talk on Wednesday. (Hilarious side note: I’m talking about the phenomenon of private revelation in a talk called “There’s a Weirdness in God’s Mercy” on 9/12. That talk is, in part, to help prepare for an exhibit on the Shroud of Turin that will start the next day. The reader board out front of Marytown announces both. But to the incautious eye, it appears to say “MARK SHEA SHROUD EXHIBIT”.
I’m tempted to start my talk by thanking the audience for spending my last few hours of life with me.
Anyway, glory to God for Cow and Claire and all my love to them and the rest of this big crazy family he’s given us. That includes you readers, by the way. Thanks for reading my stuff all these years and for being such a good, thoughtful, prayerful bunch! God is good!