A Visit from Father B

Prefatory note: I am Eastern Orthodox, and my wife is Episcopalian. An oddity in her parish church was that the pastor, Father Francis Bancroft (†), would regularly include in the Sunday hymns “The Star Spangled Banner.” Here’s a (true) story about Father B and me.

On August 22, 1997, following an afternoon nap, I awoke in a state of mental confusion and growing panic. I looked at the clock and could not tell what time it was. I wondered what day of the week it was, but I could not remember. My wife, Sherida, was in Michigan, just finishing a vacation there with her mother and her sister. So I tried to call my oldest daughter, Amanda, to tell her that I was in trouble and needed help. I could not remember Amanda’s number. I tried to think of my own phone number and couldn’t. Somehow, I was able to find the speed-dial button on my phone that connected me with my sister, who (thank God!) was home. “Sherry,” I said, “something’s wrong. I think I’d better get to the hospital.” (Actually, I couldn’t speak that clearly. What I really said was something like “Sherry, something wrong, go hospital . . . . ”)

In a few minutes, my sister, who lives nearby, picked me up and drove me to the local hospital. Initially, it appeared that I had suffered a stroke, and I was treated accordingly by the neurologist on duty in the emergency room. I could not see things to my right; I could not pronounce words like “hippopotamus”; I began to say things incorrectly and without context (e.g., that Elvis Presley had died on December 1, 1992, when, in fact, the date was August 16, 1977); my sentence-structure was garbled (e.g., “Has called my wife anyone?”). It looked bad, and I was very frightened.

They kept me in the hospital for a couple of days. On the night of the episode, after my symptoms and the accompanying panic had subsided, I was dozing in my darkened room. At a certain point, I became conscious of a large presence looming over me. I came to full awareness and, with some alarm, I asked, “Who is it?” “George,” the presence said, “it’s Father Bancroft. Sherida called me and told me what happened. I assured her that I would visit you right away.”

Father B then asked me if it would be all right for him to conduct a healing and communion service at my bedside. I told him that I would appreciate that very much, and he proceeded (“O Lord, holy Father, giver of health and salvation . . . sanctify this oil . . . drive away all sickness of body and spirit . . . The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . . ”).

The next day, after two CAT-scans and some other tests (not to mention the prayers offered up on my behalf by Father B and others), the doctors determined that I had not had a stroke after all. It turned out that I had had a brain spasm caused by a hitherto undiagnosed migraine condition. The “event” emulated, but was not, a stroke. My neurologist prescribed migraine-prevention medication, which I have taken daily ever since. The medicine works, not perfectly, but quite well.

The service conducted by Father B was beautiful, meaningful, and comforting. Father B’s coming to the hospital and ministering to me that night, when I was very afraid and with Sherida still in Michigan, was an unexpected and wonderful surprise.

After the healing and communion service, and as Father B was getting ready to leave, I thought I heard angels singing. But what, I asked myself, was the song they were singing? It seemed quite familiar, but I could not at first place it. Can you take the melody of an old English drinking song, write new lyrics to it that are consecrated to a higher but still secular purpose, sing the song over and over again, week after week, as part of the Eucharistic liturgy of the Episcopal Church, and have the song become a hymn sung in Heaven? I ask this question because, as Father B left my hospital room that night, and as I concentrated more intently on the voices of the angels, I could swear that they were singing (you guessed it!) “The Star Spangled Banner”!

Humbert Returns!

Here’s something for Father’s Day.

When my three daughters were kids, I used to tell them stories I improvised. At the time, we were living in Haledon and, in the evenings, bats would fly out of garages, attics, etc., and zoom around in the yard. I told them that a particular bat, named Humbert, lived in our garage; and over time, I made up tales about his adventures.

That was quite a while ago, and my daughters grew up, married, moved away, and now have children of their own.

Then, on July 26, 2011, the event described below happened, and I sent them the following email letter:

Hello, dear girls.

Last night, I went out to dinner with Aunt Sherry to Cortina Ristorante on Berkshire Avenue in Paterson. Great place. Like the classy old restaurants that used to be in and around Paterson. Very good time.

After dropping Aunt Sherry at her house, I drove home, went into the bedroom to lie down, watch TV, and wait for Sherida to get home from her sister’s house. The house lights were on, but I had only the TV on in the bedroom where I was relaxing.

All of a sudden, something flew back and forth in front of the TV screen and, in fact, also flew right at me before veering away like a kind of silent jet plane! Scared the *@!?*#@ out of me. I thought it was a big bug (ugh!) or perhaps a bird. I got up and went out into the living room. Again, I saw something flying around, this way and that, silently, no flapping of wings. Just speedy gliding and veering.


I closed this door, that door, another door – trying to isolate whatever it was in the living room, dining room, kitchen area. Sherida phoned to say she was on her way home. I screamed, “COME RIGHT AWAY! SOMETHING’S FLYING AROUND INSIDE THE HOUSE! I NEED YOU TO DEAL WITH IT!” (Sherida was a Biology major in college and when she started graduate school. Comfortable with animals, I thought. Like Amanda is with BUGS (horrors!).

I waited, waited, and waited for Sherida to get home. The THING kept soaring around and around, in and out, up and down, to and fro, at me and away from me. Just when Sherida got home and opened the front door, the thing set down, landed, on our kitchen floor. It looked like a brown mouse, but it had substantial webbed wings, which it proceeded to wrap around itself. It sat there on the floor. I thought it might have been looking at me. Then I realized at last who it was. IT WAS HUMBERT! HUMBERT THE BAT! He had come back after such a long time.

I thought I would try to catch him by throwing a T-shirt I was holding down on him, but as soon as I moved to do that, off he went in a flash, up, here, there, gliding, soaring, and (it seemed) flying AT ME! YIKES!

Sherida kept the front door open. But she did not come in. She waited outside. She said that the bat would find his way to the door and fly out into the night. After a while, he did just that.

I have a feeling he is living in our attic. I wonder if he’ll come again for another (exciting) visit. Actually, I’m not really anxious to have him here again too soon.


Humbert has returned….

Tell the little ones (if and when they can take it in).