Posted by: Peadar Ban | July 4, 2010

Works of Mercy All Week Long

There weren’t many people at the airport when our plane landed early on that Tuesday morning in Columbus, OH.  Traffic was light all the way back to Zanesville  during the drive in Kathy’s car to the old house on Seventh Street where we had kept an apartment for several years, where she lived in her own place “up and over” the stairs in the attic from ours.  We had a cup of tea and talked about the job ahead.  Kathy was moving back to New Hampshire to live with us.  We were closing our apartment and taking a few odds and ends of our own back there, too.

The job was to get it all done in five days.  Yowp!

After our tea, I remember thinking that this was going to be more like work than work, and wondering where would come the help.  I felt positively Old Testament about the whole thing, the line from some Psalm or other, “Whence comes my help?” running through my mind in a kind of panicky like something which might have been composed by Danny Elfman.  Mariellen told me to remember to ask Our Lady to “cushion” my response to the situation, and remember that we had a legion of helpers out there.  Somewhere.

Kathy told us of a fellow who was interested in taking some of the furniture we weren’t bringing, and of our friend, Lynn Seward, who knew a young man willing to lend a hand packing boxes and moving things.

Well the first fellow couldn’t help, it turned out.  But we heard of another fellow through Lynn who might be interested in the many things we weren’t bringing with us and needed to give or throw away.  He, it became clear, was the adoptive father of a young girl in Russia and needed to raise $50,000.00 to bring her here.

Sometime the next day, after several back and forth phone calls with Mariellen and as my heart was beginning to fail, and my spirits fall into despair of us ever getting rid of the things we needed to give away, Matthew Smith appeared with his son Dillon, an eager-to-help young fellow.  Matthew let me know quietly, because that’s the way of it with him I found out, that he preferred Matthew.  Something about that preference told me all I needed to know about the man.  You see, it wasn’t until I asked him that I found out he wasn’t doing this for a friend, or for someone else.  He was the adoptive father, as I’ve said, and he was working to bring his child home, quietly, very hard and with great faith and determination.

I was impressed and uplifted by his example.  For a while, at least.  I should have trusted in those legions Mariellen kept telling me about.

Matthew Smith, on the left, and Mark the "Apostle"

It seemed to be the theme of the week, and it had started, really, the night we arrived.  I mentioned a young man who would be helpful in packing and moving boxes.  Our friend Lynn told us that he could be contacted through another of our good Ohio friends, Bill Briggs, a retired but still very active Presbyterian minister who has a unique gift for and calling to work among the poor.

Rev. Bill Briggs

I called his home and was greeted by his wife, Dottie who immediately invited us for supper.  We accepted gladly since we had no idea what or where we’d eat that evening.  Dottie promised us that Bill would get working on the problem as soon as he came home.

Well, at dinner that night, we learned that Bill was true to Dottie’s word.  Not only the next day, but until we left, Bill’s and Dottie’s help was with us in the form of people they sent, supplies they brought or prayers they offered for the work, right up until we drove off down the highway…and more about that later.

Shortly after we came to town we needed a a part for Kathy’s car; a small thing which would have cost us a new mortgage at a dealership but was only ten bucks at Miller’s junk yard somewhere in the back of the beyond, down a series of twisty roads, up and over hills and down dry gulches.  Before we got there, on our way out of town in fact, we pulled up along side another friend of ours, Terry England, who was up to some good or other in town with her grandson Austin.  Terry lives down the road from Zanesville on a small farm where the chickens and the horses live in a symbiotic paradise, and the flatlanders who buy their eggs don’t need to know how the hens get their protein.

Anyway, the next morning Terry’s granddaughter Christina and her friend Tim, a young man of better than average strength, showed up before we’d quite finished our breakfast, followed on shortly by Bill Briggs with another young man named Steve who is being helped to go to college and become a responsible fellow.  Together, the three of them set to on moving the pieces of furniture and other articles that were being donated to Matthew Smith.

He’d showed up at almost the same time, and for the next eight or ten hours that day and the next we worked away at packing and cleaning while Matthew, Steve, Tim and one or two others of Bill Briggs contacts came by to help folks they never met, and might never see again.  I remember particularly two brothers, Tom and Mark, the Apostles I called them, who moved the piano and organ that we’d given to Matthew.  I thought at one point that they’d intended on picking them up in their hands and carrying them out, and believed they could do it.

The Apostles, The Martyr and Son: Steven Tom, Dillon, Mark and Matthew

That was on Saturday, the day Kathy’s sister Jennifer and her two sons, Levi and Seth, arrived from Nashville after driving all night.  They immediately set to working, cleaning floors, and walls, and toilets, and windows and what alls, so that when all was done, the place looked better than I’d ever seen it.

While they cleaned the last two “guest workers” showed up, one of them a father of a two year old who postponed his son’s birthday to help out, and we loaded the U-haul truck to the gunwales.  The they left after a final picture, and that evening we went down to Terry’s house for a delicious supper.  We were back in our own place by eight for our last night there.

The Loaders: Christina, Mariellen, Kathy, Kayley and Terry in Front. Tim, Mel and Brad in back

After Mass in the morning, Matthew came by to pick up the futon mattress we slept on and the last items we were donating.  He mentioned that it had all filled the 10 by 20 foot storage space he’d rented, and that made me feel pretty good I can tell you.  Working beside him over the past three days I’d come to invest a bit of myself in his mission and found myself praying and hoping God’s will for everyone connected with this child includes her living with the Smith family in Zanesville, OH.

I wondered, more than once, if the time we had picked several months ago to move Kathy had been part of God’s plan all along.  Well, of course, I found myself wondering in answer.

Terry showed up to wish us Godspeed, and Jennifer and the boys were there for hugs and tears and promises to visit.  After a last photo and a last hug, we were off.  I can remember the song  going through my mind as I made the first left turn onto Underwood Avenue towards the entrance ramp to I-70.  “If Love is Lord of heaven and earth/How can I keep from singing.”

Left to right: Mariellen, Terry, Kathy, Levi, Jennifer and Seth; Benedict the Cat in the carrier

The words hadn’t quite finished when the SUV’s loud crash and the sudden lurch drove them finally away.  As I was standing on the curb saying a prayer of thanks that the young woman driving the other car and her three year old son were unhurt I saw Bill and Dottie Briggs walking towards Mariellen and me.

How Can I Keep From Singing

Cyclops the Truck

They offered what help they could, getting water and soft drinks for us, the people in the other car and the officers who came by to investigate.  It was a hot day.  Then they took Kathy to a nearby restaurant and waited for us to join them.  I drove back to the U Haul place, learned the truck was still drivable, and went back to where Bill and Dottie waited for us with Kathy.  But, I was in no mood, really, to meet anyone.  What I wanted to do was turn out all the lights and sit in the dark for about the rest of my life.

Mariellen sat with me, quietly, called Kathy and said we’d meet her after lunch back at the house we’d just emptied; Peter was in not in a company mood.

After a while I considered that wouldn’t be fair to Bill and Dottie who had re-arranged their schedule to help.  So we walked over to the restaurant and sat down to eat.  There was a reason, you know.  I needed the help, and the counsel.  I told Bill about my song and how suddenly that mood had been broken and myself plunged into blackness by the car crash; how desperate I was after seeing the young woman and her child and imagining the very worst.

He listened and quietly reminded me of my name,  the other fellow who carried it and what happened when he tried to do too much on his own.  I heard him and began to understand, and accept the “difficult grace”  of the accident.  We ate lunch, he and we prayed for our continued safe journey and we left.

Up on the highway driving very carefully along the road I’d like to say I was able to repeat the lines of that song I was singing just an hour or so before.  That would be a perfect Hollywood moment, wouldn’t it?  And just about as true as Hollywood moments are.

But, I was very thankful for one legion wrapped up in the form of one man and his wife and humbled by their compassion, thankful, too,  for all the others who happened along throughout the week and humbled by their willing service to strangers; and beginning to realize that I had a long way to travel… in that truck, too.


It is a week since.  Matthew Smith and his family are in the middle of their big garage sale at Thomas Aquinas Church in Zanesville, OH.  I hope that we were able to contribute to its success.  Bill and Dottie are probably there, or have been.  So I hope are Lynn Seward and Terry England and all the others.  With their help little Yana Smith will, God willing, soon be home with her family.

If you are moved to learn more about some good and loving people, and help them, you may click on this link to their blog.  Maybe you could join a legion of folks?


  1. Lovely! Beautiful people.

    Established in Being perform action.

    Surely goodness and mercy…

    He, he, he!

    Quite a nice little pony you are riding!!!

    • Thank you, Gerry. They are nice people. You’d like them, everyone.

  2. Greetings from the USA !

    I clicked on your blog site and there I saw a familiar image – looks like Westport Ireland. I have visited there twice – very beautiful town.

    I have a similar image on my photoblog –

    God bless you!


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