Inmate Didn’t Only Look Similar To Her Dad But Also Sounded Like Him.
Story by Mary Rachelski
I looked across the room and my heart froze! There, standing among the other inmates lined up against the wall, was a younger version of my recently deceased father. It was so uncanny that my husband, Andy, who was standing next to me, leaned down and said, “Do you see that guy across the room? He looks so much like your dad, it’s creepy.”
Outwardly, I’m sure I looked calm and composed, but inside I was shaking. Get hold of yourself, I reasoned. It’s probably just a trick of the lights. Maybe Dad’s been on your sub-conscious mind; after all, it hasn’t been that long since his death.
My childhood left much to be desired. My father and I had a talk years before his death during which we both agreed, he was not the father either of us would have liked. He had even given me the gift of an apology. Yet somehow, I still had the feeling that there had been no closure before his death.
“How do I get myself into these fixes?” Here I was committing to bring a weekend retreat into this prison with my husband and twenty-five other volunteers. Get a grip, I kept telling myself. Finally, I decided just to avoid the man all weekend. I can do that; it’s a big room, lots of people. No problem! What’s the worst that can happen? I’m here now. Just keep plenty of space between you, and you’ll be fine.
I was snapped out of my mental argument when I heard my name called. “The outside leader of table six, Mary Rachelski. First candidate sitting to her left, Richard.” I managed to weave my way to the table, trying not to make eye contact with him. I reasoned, “If I don’t look at him, he can’t see me.”
“Hello, my name is Richard.” I turned to look into the watery gray-blue eyes of the younger version of my father.
This man not only looked like my father, but he sounded like him, same mannerisms, same way of combing his hair, same big words used out of context like my father. He even wore the same after-shave. God has a cruel sense of humor, doesn’t He? Or does He? This man was like my father in almost every way, except that instead of making me feel stupid when I said something, he acted like I was the most brilliant woman on the planet! He validated everything I said and did. He laughed at my jokes. He got my snacks. He held my chair, and most of all, he never once made me feel ashamed. Now, after the initial shock, I could see that he wasn’t exactly like my father, but I had to admit that the similarities were uncanny.
One of the most important and beautiful exercises of the weekend is the foot washing. We reenact the foot washing before the Last Supper in the Bible. It’s an immensely powerful experience, because everyone is totally connected emotionally. You may see a white man washing a black man’s feet or a man washing a woman’s feet. Everyone humbles himself or herself.
I had just taken the place of someone who had been kneeling on the floor washing the feet of others, when I looked up to see the next person to sit down. You guessed it; it was Richard. Except this time it wasn’t Richard, it was my father. I started to cry. I was truly washing my father’s feet with my tears. This was my chance to tell him I love him; I forgive him; and to go in peace. When I looked up again he was crying too, but he also had such a look of pure peace on his face. Then just as quickly, it was Richard again.
I couldn’t wait to tell Andy what had happened on the way home. I wasn’t sure if I was losing my mind. That night I couldn’t sleep, so I wrote Richard a long letter, telling him all about my childhood and just what had happened that evening, and why it probably seemed to him that I must have been acting strangely that weekend. Only then was I able to sleep. The next morning I got clearance from the chaplain to give Richard the letter, and to my surprise he had spent several hours writing me a letter. He asked that I wait until I got home to read it. This is in part what it said:
I almost didn’t go through with the foot washing exercise. You see, I didn’t feel worthy. So before sitting down, I asked God for a sign to show me that He could forgive me for all the terrible things I’ve done in my life, many of which I’ve shared with you in this letter. I’ve only told one other person in this world my secrets. When I looked down into your face, you were crying. I thought that was my sign, and then I saw your face change, to that of Christ’s.
The Peace of the Lord be with you,