I almost cried today….I can’t remember the last time I have—outwardly, anyway.When I tell you about the unforgettable and moving experience of this day in my life; you may come to understand why a 41-year old man; a 19-year Air Force field grade officer, could be humbled in this way.
This North Carolina day began like so many September mornings-- blue skies with a Spring-like breeze, culminating in a warmer afternoon.Local meteorologists proclaimed rain to be a 20% chance—a scattered, isolated shower at most.So it was then, that I entered my exercise-planning meeting, first exiting my vehicle and passing under the reassuring sun at 1:30P.M. and into the 43d Operations Group building on the other side of Pope AFB in Fayetteville, NC.What would happen within the hour would cause region forecasters to shake their heads in dismay—and with good reason.Because when the meeting adjourned at approximately 2:00P.M, I looked outside and saw rain coming down so hard that visibility was nearly zero—a "wall" of precipitation; violent lightening cracked the air with its immense heat, echoing as it found earth.Within a short few minutes, flash flooding took place—the parking lot and street became a busy, fast-moving stream of water 3 feet in depth.The faces of the onlookers betrayed both horror and surprise.
I grabbed for my cellular phone—the power now gone from the building where I stood; figures standing quietly in the dark like faceless companions mesmerized by the work of a higher power."Airman Starks" I spoke to the voice on the other end…."did we ever get a call from Command Post on this approaching weather…where did it come from?!""No, sir", he answered…but, the building is flooding downstairs and the Orderly Room folks say the water there is 2 inches deep and rising"."You better come fast, sir". "My God, Ronnie", I heard myself say, thinking of the priceless family picture on the wall of my office….an unusually, clear masterpiece of my mother’s side of the family—My Great Grandparents, Joseph Padovini and Theresa Giobbi, their blonde-haired daughter whose beautiful face and hands were in my mind, simply angelic—the little girl was my grandmother, Angela Padovini.Her sister, Elva; Theresa’s brother, Antonio; wife, Jane "Vincenza" and baby, Carrie, completed this early 1900s portrait.I had received it only a week before—a generous gift from my mother, Frances (1932-) and father, William (1930-).I was so very, very proud of it.And I loved my Grandmother so—her spirit had touched me at her funeral with a peace that I had never felt—an indescribable sensation that reveled in the salvation that I knew at that moment she found.
I fought back the tears whose will was to silhouette my eyes with the realization that this picture was coming to its ruin.You see, my office was in the Orderly Room; I knew there was a high probability that the antiquated flat roof would become flooded, causing the ceiling to leak--surely water-damage would find this family treasure too."Ronnie", I said as calmly as I could…"get down to my office, take the family picture off the back of my wall and protect it, if it isn’t already damaged".Enroute, I called again…."Sir, I have the picture, I can’t explain it—when are you going to be here?", Starks said anxiously.A few moments later I was met at our building’s entrance by co-workers with shovels, others stacking sandbags, and those frantically using wet-dry vacs.It was a ludicrous sight; a losing battle—one which contradicted the beautiful day of an hour before.My heart sank, I could feel my stomach wrench and turn…the water was at least 3-inches throughout the building.I waded through the hallway and into the Orderly Room—our Command and administrative area, like the rest of the 30,000 sq. ft. building; was an absolute mess.As I peered into my 8’ X 10’ office, my greatest fear was realized.Water had spilled from the ceiling tile down the back wall and over the picture.I could see where it struck the top of the portrait that had hung there, now gone.
The water appeared to have run down to the frame, where it apparently divided, finding its way off each side of the portrait, before continuing its journey down the wall and on to the floor’s pool below."Sir", the familiar voice said behind me—handing me what was left of the picture in a plastic bag.I wanted to cry; my throat tightened and began to ache as I grappled with what had happened."It parted; I can’t explain it", Ronnie said."What do you mean, it parted?" I said softly--believing he was referring to the portrait.Istruggled with the indescribable emotion that wracked my body and now spirit.I began to pull the picture from the bag, beginning to close my eyes as I did, fearing that the very sight of it wouldsend me over the edge….I certainly didn’t want to cry in front of those I was charged to lead."It was never touched", Ronnie added as I pulled the family treasure from what I believed would be it’s burial bag. It was in perfect condition; not one drop of water had touched it….this I thought with great joy, while water danced at my boot-covered ankles."My God!, I exclaimed…."but, how?!""The water…it parted, sir".I was sure it would be wet, but the water never touched your picture…it ran around it—it just parted"."I never would have believed it, if I hadn’t seen it", Ronnie exclaimed.Just look, he said, pointing to the water-stain shape on the wall…it’s division at the picture’s upper edge formed the distinct "bell".A "Miracle Bell", another co-worker added incredulously, pausing from his efforts to rid the area of the still rising water."Ronnie, see, this beautiful little girl here?", I said pointing to the portrait.She is my Grandmother…."Guess what her married name is?", I said, struggling once again with the pendulum-like swing of emotion….."Bell".The room was silent for a moment, except for the sound of lapping water; the walls and many of my belongings wet…..all except the 37 family pictures on my desk and credenza…which, incredibly were untouched by water.But, it was the water-stroked image of the unmistakable Bell on the wall that we all looked at without uttering a word—tongue-tied, no—reflecting, on what was an unexplainable, but beautiful moment.And then, Ronnie said something I’ll never forget…"She must have been holding her hands over it…….your grandmother….sir….she must have been". If I had spoken at that moment, I would most certainly have cried.So, I nodded my head in affirmation, looking downward so as not to show the tears of joy and relief that were most certainly filling my eyes now.I swallowed hard and said, "Thanks, Ronnie…you have no idea".
I think he did though.
He said what I knew in my heart.
The Miracle Bell.
That’s how I explain it.
The Miracle---The Family, Bell.
Thank you, Grandma, for touching my heart…. again.
I love you…. always have, always will.
She was a beautiful child.
She still is.
William "Doug" Park
(4 May 1959-)