When I was a teenager, my family and I would visit my mother’s German Catholic kin in Victoria Kan., 250 miles west of Kansas City.
Our summer vacations were the highlight of my adolescence: Fourth of July fireworks, swimming in my Uncle Rich’s stock tank, meals at my Aunt Tin’s Tastee Freez.
Cemetery visits might not qualify as adolescent fun, but they were a major factor in my spiritual development.
Faith in Victoria was simply lived in rituals such as Sunday Mass, large Catholic weddings and monthly, if not weekly, visits to the graves of loved ones. Holy water was sprinkled upon the graves and silent prayers murmured as intercessory requests to God on behalf of these German pilgrims.
My faith life was nourished by the rituals of this community. In this climate of love, the story of my older cousin Jim Kuhn began.
Jim was four years older than I, and I adored him obsessively, as only a 14-year-old girl could.
Jim was full of swagger and good looks. He loved KU basketball, but he especially loved music. He played trombone in the high school band and above all enjoyed listening to Elvis. Lots and lots of Elvis.
It was a huge shock to me and my family when Jimmy was seriously injured in a car accident during his junior year of high school. It left him brain-damaged, and he was never able to care for himself again. He lived with his adoring mother after the accident and later in nursing homes near Victoria.
Jim listened to Elvis sing from his phonograph and CD player for the rest of his life. In his sister’s words, “Jim was forever to remain with the mind of a 16-year-old boy.”
The Rev. Michael Scully, at St. Fidelis Catholic Church, gave the sermon on a cold March day at Jim’s funeral. The priest spoke of God’s abiding love to one bound so closely to others for all his physical needs as well as emotional support.
The Rev. Scully was able to make sense of Jim’s accident and the life he went on to lead as an invalid by explaining God’s concern for Jim, particularly evidenced by his loving caregivers. God never left Jim, as family and friends were always attentive to him via visits and special treats, usually Reese’s peanut butter cups.
As I meditated at his funeral Mass, I listened to a male quartet sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
Walk on through the wind,
Walk on through the rain,
Though your dreams be tossed and blown.
Walk on, walk on,
With hope in your hearts,
And you’ll never walk alone.
As I listened to the words of this song, immortalized by Elvis, I was overwhelmed with joyous rapture. My spirit was lifted to the heavens, where music is ever present and mortal souls are whole and healthy, and where they sing God’s eternal praise.
Kathryn E. Stewart of Blue Springs is one of The Star’s Faith Walk writers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.