Jim Mayzik SJ                   Everything Matters
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Jim Mayzik SJ Blog

I'll be using this space from time to time to share my reflections and thoughts on various topics.  Please feel free to add to the conversation by writing some reaction in the COMMENT section! 

 

 

How do we love thee? Let us count the ways.

Sandra Gargaloni Mass of Resurrection June 24, 2017Holy Family Church

Almost every day for several years, an answering machine would turn on at 2003 Clove Road.  The words that came from the device’s speaker would address an empty house--its occupant on her daily whirlwind of a day, hopping across the Island from school to church to school to school to church. It was Bernie Kelly’s 86 year-old voice that would rebound from the living room to the kitchen to the music room to the bedroom, reciting the words of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet #43 (abridged) :

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

my soul can reach…

I love thee freely.

I love thee purely.

I love thee with the breath,

smiles, tears, of all my life;

and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death.

 Some years ago when Pedro Arrupe was the leader of the world-wide Jesuit order, he wrote about love, and life.   “What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything,” he said.  “It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with gratitude and joy. If you fall in love, and stay in love,” he said, “it will decide everything.”

 Bernie was one of the strays who wandered into Sandy’s life in his twilight years, and who was embraced and adopted by her.  A stray, like all of us today in this church, really. We were all picked up and assumed into the orbit of this amazingly wonderful woman who had a heart big enough for everyone, and for every beautiful thing that God created.

 Sandy, Sandra, Miss Sandy, Miss Gargaloni, and for me SDH (Sandra Dear Heart)—whomever she was to you---she was in love with so much.

 She loved music, of course, perhaps more than anything else in her life.  Her father Armando loved to sing opera to her when she was a child, and undoubtedly that’s where her love of music was born.  He sent her to Anthony Ettore’s School of Music where she was a quick study.  When she was 12 she was on the stage of Carnegie Hall playing the most challenging of pieces, and her skill and talent gave birth to a career that spanned from nightclubs to catering halls to classrooms and to church sanctuaries.  Her love for music and life was contagious and along the way she attracted a lot of fans, strays like us, and she made all of them part of her family.

 My first experience with her love of music was at St Rita’s.  I was introduced to Sandy by my friend Father Michael Sepp, who told me that she was a fantastic musician who provided music for the Masses at the church, and that she played the accordion. 

“The accordion,” I said skeptically, “for Mass?”.  “You won’t believe it,” he said. “She’s a little crazy,” he said, “But she’s a genius, she can play anything.” 

 And I promptly asked her if she could play “True Colors” by Cyndi Lauper for my next Sunday Mass. 

“True Colors”, she asked skeptically, “for Mass? What are you, crazy?”

And then she picked up her accordion and played the song for me perfectly, and of course she played it--probably reluctantly--at my crazy Mass.  It was the beginning of a long lesson in music that I received from her even until the day before she died.  She was a genius at playing and writing music, at teaching it, and at sharing its beauty with all of us at Masses, graduations, parties, confirmations and communions, and her beloved Lessons and Carols.

 She loved her family. Especially her parents Evelyn and Armando, and of course Teddy and Lydia, and dear Doris and Spiro and his excellent cooking. She loved her nieces and nephews—Lori, Ralph, Michael, and her aunts and uncles and all her cousins—Mark, Brian and Jay.  For almost the past 20 years, she devoted many hours at the end of every day no matter how tired she was to be with Doris and to ease the burden upon Spiro.

 She loved her friends. And there were so many of them—young and old, long term and newly minted.  She remembered their birthdays, invited them to her parties, gave them her time and her love and her loyalty when they were in need. Take a look around this room. We are a small sample of the strays who became lifelong friends.

 She loved children. She never had any of her own, but she was mother and big sister and crazy Aunt to so many of them. They loved her because she was a big kid herself and found ways to 'play' with them that made each one of them feel special. And she loved teaching them and playing for them.  If you spent a few hours with her in public on Staten Island, you would inevitably witness people coming up to her to say hello and to tell her how much they loved learning music with her, singing with her. She taught hundreds of them each year--thousands over the years--- so of course she didn’t remember too many of their names.

 She loved young adults.  There are plenty of people sitting in this place right now who are still grateful for the respect she showed them, the attention she paid to them, the fun she offered to them on trips to the beach or Great Adventure or other exciting destinations.

 She loved elderly people, and those who were sick or disabled and anyone who felt rejected, outcast, abandoned, prodigal. How many times did she pack up that big accordion into her car to bring a music festival or sing-a-long to a nursing home or to a retirement or anniversary party? How many times did she call or visit someone who was alone or suffering some misfortune?

 She loved priests. And there were so many in her life. Those who have passed on: Monsignor Sullivan and Michael Sepp.  And others with whom she developed deep and long friendships:  Ed Weber, Austin Titus, Jack Reardon, and so many others, all here included.  She took care of them, defended them, served them and loved them despite their failings and maybe especially because of their human frailty.

 She loved her ‘group’, her ‘gang’---the people who played with her, sang with her, made beautiful music together with her every week and on every special holiday. They were her homies, and as much as she drove them hard, she relied on them to make something beautiful and holy for the Lord.  She was so proud of them.  And she asked that they specifically celebrate this Mass for her today.

 She loved dogs—especially Bismark, and Harry, and Murphy.  They brought her such joy, and so many tears when God took them home.  But she also loved stray cats, birds of the air, fish of the sea, squirrels, deer, mice, maybe even rats. She even loved bugs. Well, some. After I met her I was never able to willingly kill even the most annoying of God's bugs.  She worried about them all, and couldn’t bear to see any harm come to them.

 She loved the forest and the ocean and the mountains and the flowery meadows, and the blue blue sky. And her tomatoes. She loved a delicious tomato sandwich from her own garden’s bounty.

She loved Staten Island.  Of course she did, she was a native, and proud of it.  North shore proud.

 She loved being Italian, but not too Italian, never gavone.

She loved being loyal.  She loved being generous with her time, her money, her music, with her love. She loved being in charge, being the driver of the car, player number one. She loved being independent.

Never the center of attention, never one to seek praise or adulation, she loved being a servant, even if at times it was as a suffering one.  It was never about Sandy, always about someone else.

 She loved the simple things, the small pleasures. Rice pudding and mac and cheese.  A sofa that had three pillows.  A latte with cinnamon.  Doing the crossword with Doris.  Throwing a ball endlessly for Murphy.  

And above all she loved the God who created this beautiful earth and all its creatures, and who accepted her for all her faults and sinfulness. Hers was a very real, deep and practical faith. She believed that God was everywhere to be found, in all things and all places. She knew her life was in God’s hands at every moment.  “Do not worry about your life, or what you will eat, or about your body, or what you will wear…consider the birds of the air, the wild flowers that grow…Seek his kingdom and these things will be given to you as well.” She was the very example of Jesus’ advice. 

What and who she loved did indeed get her out of bed in the morning, determined what she did with her evenings and her weekends. What and who she loved often broke her heart, but it also amazed her with gratitude and joy.  She fell in love a lot, especially with all of us. It decided everything about her wonderful life.  

Someone here reminded me that our Sandy, Sandra, Miss Sandy, Miss Gargaloni was born on the shortest and darkest day of the year and immediately brightened the world. No wonder she left it on the longest and lightest day. Her life made the whole world more luminous.

 She did not want us to be sad today.  She wanted us to celebrate the Love that brought her into the world, that sustained her in so many ways over her wonderful life, and that brought her home again finally on Wednesday. She was grateful and joyful. I will never forget one Easter Eve after the Easter Vigil at St Rita’s. I followed her to her back to her house so that I could get some music from her for Easter Mass in the morning.  Despite her exhaustion and the lateness of the hour, she practiced the song with me with her accordion, and we got so into it that we marched from room to room singing and playing and banging on anything within reach. He came down that we may have life, He came down that we may have life, He came down that we may have life, Alleluia, Forevermore. 

It was the most fun and honest expression of joy I have ever experienced.

She is undoubtedly marching into some heavenly setting right now, the music sweeter than she’s ever made, joining the communion of saints and the fullness of a love that she only lived partially with us.

Dear Sandra:

How do we love thee? Let us count the ways.

We love thee to the depth and breadth and height

our souls can reach…

We love thee freely.

We love thee purely.

We love thee with the breath,

smiles, tears, of all our life;

and, if God choose,

we shall but love thee better after death.

Here is a song that our Sandy asked us to share at this Mass.  It is a statement of her faith, and it is undoubtedly the prayer that she is playing for her Lord as she ascends into His arms.

For the beauty of the earth
For the beauty of the skies
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies
Over and around us lies

Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our joyful hymn of praise

For the beauty of the hour
Of the day and of the night
Hill and vale and tree and flower
Sun and moon and stars of light
Sun and moon and stars of light

Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our joyful hymn of praise

For the joy of human love
Brother, sister, parent, child
Friends on earth and friends above
For all gentle thoughts and mild
For all gentle thoughts and mild

Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our joyful hymn of praise

 

For each perfect gift of thine
To our race so freely given
Graces human and divine
Flow'rs of earth and buds of heav'n
Flow'rs of earth and buds of heav'n

Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our joyful hymn, our joyful hymn of praise
This our joyful hymn of praise