An Unexpected Magic

Award Category
Golden Writer
Logline or Premise
When Patrick's faith and hope are shattered by his wife's death, God uses an impossible journey into Neolithic Ireland to restore them while granting him a new family and a renewed purpose in life.
First 10 Pages


I see my Annie lying on the intensive care bed and my hope fades. There are two people in the room, a doctor and a nurse, both at Annie’s bedside.

The attending physician looks up and demands, “Are you family?”

“Yes. I'm Patrick, her husband.”

His look changes and he states more gently, “We need permission to intubate.”

I’m shocked at this sudden indication that things are so bad. “Is she likely to recover quickly?”

The doctor approaches me and puts his hand on my arm. “No, Patrick, I'm afraid recovery isn't likely at all.”

I’m sure my breath has just been sucked out of me, but I hear myself answer, “Then no. Annie has an advanced directive with instructions to do only basic care. Her Physician's Orders are the same.” I have just announced her death and my first tears leave wet trails on my cheeks.

“Do you have her directive handy—or her POLST number?” he somberly asks.

I try to see each of them through eyes that are now freely crying. The doctor’s name is Reese. My tears distort the nurse’s name tag too much to read it. My phone has the picture I keep of Annie’s pink Physician’s Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment refrigerator plaque. I find it, Doctor Reese glances at the image, and enters her number onto his pad. After an eternal moment, he nods. The youngish nurse looks back and forth between the two of us. I can see she doesn't enjoy being the one who has to pull Annie’s life support.

“Please,” I ask her, my voice barely a whisper.

Again, Doctor Reese nods. Frowning, the nurse finally removes the drip needle and tapes a small white cotton ball over the site.

“How long?” I ask, tears are dripping off my chin to splatter loudly on my coat.

The doctor replies, “Any time now.”

“I want to lie down next to her. Have her head on my chest.”

“She won't know you're there,” Doctor Reese says quietly.

“It is what she likes best,” I breathe, “and that is what I want to give her this one last time. She will know that she isn't alone, and that I love her.”

He shrugs, then nods again, pointing to the bed. An orderly appears and, with the nurse, they move enough of Annie and the attached spaghetti of wires to make room for me on the narrow mattress. I pull off my coat and climb up beside her still form. The orderly helps me shift her body so that her head comes to rest on my right shoulder.

“I love you,” I whisper to her, my work-worn fingers clumsily stroking her soft silvered hair.

For just a moment, she is here, and I feel her snuggle closer. The bed is going to be soaked, I'm draining rivers from both eyes.

I kiss her forehead and hug her. She relaxes, sighs, and takes no more breaths.

An annoying alarm goes off, disturbing the moment. Someone turns it off and I recognize Annie has left me.

An uncontrollable well erupts from under clenched eyelids and I sob inconsolably. I want to believe she has gone Home, but a chasm opens under my faith and I just don't know.


Hope is such a simple word, but I'm not sure I know what it means anymore, much less where to find it. It's raining, and it is a Monday; my mind wanders and I all but hear Karen Carpenter sing my own feelings.

“Talkin' to myself and feelin' old, sometimes I'd like to quit, nothin' ever seems to fit, hangin' around, nothin' to do but frown...”

I'm kneeling in the front yard, trying to trim the ivy back from one of our fences. Annie's favorite tulips are blooming, she loved that canary yellow color so much. She loved the swaying yellow daffodils that along the fence, too. My old knees grumble as my shears cut back an invading vine. I shake the rain from the trimmed piece and toss it onto the pile with its brothers.

I didn't feel this gaping emptiness when my parents died or when I lost close friends in the war. Losing Annie after forty years together has left a hole the size of a football stadium. Worse still, my prayers bounce back from the ceiling and I flail about when I try to study the Scripture. I’m not sure I know what it would take to fill the crater in my faith.

Oregon drizzle drips relentlessly through the crease in my hat, making a cold wet trickle down my scalp. There is something so futile about this whole place. I used to love to putter around in the garden, but now it just reminds me she is gone and I'm not. What am I even doing here? It's a wonder that I haven't sold this place; the emptiness of it haunts me so.


“Pat, good to see you! Been a while, you doing okay? We sure miss the whistle in worship.” The gentleman asking is Tom, a pastor at the church I’ve been neglecting of late.

“Seem to be a bit out of it,” I offer.

Tom queries, “Headaches getting bad again?”

I don't tell him I haven't had a nasty headache for several weeks and I’d really rather not admit the current of depression I'm swimming against. While it has only been a month since Annie passed, part of me recognizes that I'm missing a chance of some sort to get his help. Still, I don't want him to think I'm losing it. Pride wins out; I shrug and let him make his own assumptions.

He knows that I'm not saying everything I'm thinking and quietly says, “You don't have to tough it out alone, Pat. You have friends and there's help if you need it. Look, I can't imagine how losing Annie must be pulling on you, but I'm here for you if you need me, day or night. Hey, why not come over for dinner and watch the game with us on Saturday?”

“Thanks, Tom.” In the time-honored way, I respond without actually saying no, “Let me think about it, okay?”

“Sure, Pat.” His face says he understands well enough. “Any time works for us, okay?”

“I know, thanks.”


Dinner for one is over and I'm feeling lonely. No random companionship can help with this emptiness of the little things left undone or familiar things not being put back where they belong. No, our nearly forty years together weren't perfect, but we became a whole somehow. Except for a couple years when I was mostly gone driving over-the-road, we spent those decades together. Now half of “us” is gone and I have nothing meaningful in my life.

I look at our collection of movies, but nothing really interests me. The recliner seems a refuge, and I let myself sink into it.


“Sarge! Buddy! Wanna chase 'Mook Bay springers with us?”

It is zero dark thirty and the offending caller is a fairly close friend from a local veteran's group, a Navy vet and a regular fishing companion named Jacob.


“No, No, NO!!! Wrong answer! WAKE UP PATRICK!” He does a verbal singsong imitation of Reveille, bad enough that it would have earned him many hours cleaning latrines way back when.

The clock face announces it is 3:16. Annoyed, I manage, “You have got to be kidding me, Chief.”

“No way! Boat's hooked up and Mark's comin', but Dave's dog sick an' I need one more for ballast, an' you're fat enough to do nicely. Come on, Paddy me boy!”

“You don't do Irish very well,” I grumble, sleep still entreating me to reclaim the warmth hiding under my blankets.

“We're not lettin' you sink in that funk you've been sailin' through, Sarge! You need to fish! Don't make me come over there an' bang on your door!”

“I’ve got nothing rigged, I don't have any bait, and I don't even have gas money.”

“Excuses, excuses. GET UP, Grunt! Fish ain't waitin'!”

“Go on, ya Squid, I'm not getting up.”

“The heck you aren't. We'll be there in ten an' you BETTER be ready, Sarge.”

“Go call Gunny...”

“You asked for it.”


“Fish on!” Jacob hollers as his rod tip heads down towards the water.

Mark, Jacob's friend and a fellow veteran, reels madly to get his line out of the water and I reach for the net. I don't have a line out because the last fish we landed filled my legal limit of two.

Mark takes the pilot's seat, and the engine growls to life.

“Port!” Jacob yells as the fish tries to get under the boat.

Mark has worked with Chief often enough to know that “Port” is “Left” and the boat's tail swings gently around appropriately.

There are a lot of other boats bobbing at anchor here in the early morning near the mouth of Tillamook Bay on Oregon's Pacific coast. The spring run of Chinook salmon, commonly called “springers”, are chasing the taste of water from their home spawning rivers. A goodly number of them will wind up in freezers after today, feeding hungry folks like me for months. No, these aren't the forty pounders they caught fifty years ago, but one of my two is just shy of twenty pounds and Jacob's first one hangs at twenty-two.

Jacob's line dances madly back and forth, silver flashes frantically as the fish fights for its life against the spring of the rod and Jacob's reeling hand. A smooth pole with its big green net rests in my hands, ready to land what must be another big one.

Even in the middle of all this excitement, I have to admit that it sure is peaceful to be back out on the water. I used to love sailing and while this is very different, this is also the same in so many ways. Annie hated rocking boats and I've often missed the chance to be out like this. I'm kinda glad Chief didn't take “No” for an answer this morning.

“Wake up, Sarge!”

Ooops, I nearly spaced out and missed the fish struggling near the surface. I dip the big net, scoop it under the struggling salmon, and with a quick twist, the fish loses any last moment escape route.

It is a hatchery fish and therefore a legal catch. Mark clubs the writhing salmon and Jacob raises a shout as he hoists the heavy Chinook for the neighboring boats to see.


I wander listlessly about the house and wind up in the shop. My workshop is divided into a well-used woodworking area and a smaller jewelry desk. On the desk, a melt of sterling silver still awaits its turn in my little electric furnace. Spices of cedar and myrtle, of oak and ebony, rise to caress my nose as I hand-wipe wood-dust from my waist-high polishing table; even those smells don’t motivate me to work on anything.

Sinking onto a worn office chair that long ago lost its arms, my eye settles on a piece of black Irish bog oak sitting somewhat alone on a side table. I originally intended to make it into a gift, but now I just study it. This came from a tree that fell and was covered by a wet green Irish bog about five thousand years ago.

It seems odd, but I wonder how things were when that oak tumbled into the peat. Did survival have any more meaning to folks living then than it does in our stress burdened world today? What about losing loved ones?

I realize that I’m not remembering God and I wonder why.


I hate to admit it, but I just splurged the equivalent of a month's mortgage payment for a round-trip ticket to Shannon, Ireland. More of my thinning savings adds a two-week tour of ancient sites all across Ireland. I hope to see the kinds of things my great-great-grandparents would have seen and known a little about. Maybe the visit will also help me understand what helped them make sense of their lives through their many trials.

I don't know why, but I pay special attention to this entry from the itinerary:

“We will depart Slane and spend most of the day at the World Heritage Site of Brú na Boinne, taking the morning and much of the afternoon for special visits to Knowth, Newgrange, and the surrounding sites and excavations. Before we head on to Dublin for the night's lodgings and dinner, we make a brief stop at the Hill of Tara to see the seat of the High Kings and the Stone of Destiny, the Lia Fáil.”

Presuming I survive the tour, I've also booked an extravagant two day guided trip to fish for trout or salmon.

I'm even going to take along my Irish whistle. Maybe I'll have a chance to play with an open session at one of the nightly stops. The sterling silver Copeland D whistle is one of my prized possessions and, until lately, playing music with it has been one of my greatest joys. Since Annie died, the whistle just sounds hollow and out of tune. Maybe deep down that is what this trip is all about: learning to make music in my heart again.


“No, I'm taking those three weeks of vacation for a trip I need to take to Ireland.”

Frank sounds annoyed and callously asks, “Somebody important die?”

I refuse the bait. “No. This is something I need to do.”

“No way then, that includes month-end. I'm already down one man. I can't give you up.” My dispatch manager is trying to bully me out of taking the trip, kinda the way he does whenever I want time off. “How about—”

“Well,” I interrupt, “then fire me when I don't show up.”

“What? You still have a couple of years before you can retire. Where would you go?”

“You're kidding, right? With my miles? Be serious, plenty of companies are offering big sign-up bonuses for experienced drivers.”

He's silent. Finally, “Yeah, but the huge ones are only for over-the-road. Do you really want to do that again and lose your home time?”

I finally lose my patience and snap back, “With Annie gone, there is nothing to lose.”

The line is silent. He sighs audibly, then asks, “What dates do you need again?”


“Welcome to Ireland!” A bubbly redheaded Aer Lingus stewardess welcomes us as the aircraft taxis to an airport gate. “Please remain in your seats until the captain has turned off the fasten seatbelt sign.” She drones on while I look out the window. It is Ireland, but it looks like any other small airport in a temperate climate.

It feels a lot like some kind of prayer is being answered. I have an unexpected sense of the rightness of being here, but with no clue why. Some of my ancestors left this island a century and a half ago; maybe that is what I feel. At the very least, I seem to have left most of my depression somewhere back over the Atlantic.


The afternoon sun feels great as I sit waiting for the bus to my hotel. Beside me rests my day bag and a smallish suitcase. The day bag is one of those all purpose shoulder contraptions we use back home for whatever; its lining and seams are at least supposed to be waterproof, even the zippers are unlikely to let water in unless I try to use it for swimming. It holds my usual emergency kit, some edibles, and my blue Gortex-lined all-weather jacket.

The suitcase, well, it holds enough underwear, socks, and other necessities for several weeks. It also holds my prized Kingpin centerpin fishing reel, some other fishing goodies, and my sterling silver whistle. My last bit of luggage is the tubular case for my thirteen foot Echo float rod.

I read some of the Bible on my phone, but I can’t seem to settle on a passage or concentrate. I’m more aware of the breeze blowing across my face than I am the meanings of the words. Why can’t I reconnect with the faith that seemed so strong just a few months ago?


Our tour guide is a younger fellow about as tall as I, though a good many pounds lighter. He is warmly and comfortably dressed, with lighter brown hair showing a hint of auburn in the bright morning light.

“Welcome to Irish Stone Tours!” he exclaims. “We pride ourselves on introducing our guests to the most spectacular ancient sites to be found in Ireland. I'm Ryan,” and here he gestures to a second similarly attired lad, “and this is my partner Tim.”

“Hello, all,” Tim acknowledges without fanfare.

I look around at the dozen people standing nearby whom I think will be my companions for the next couple of weeks, then back at Ryan.

Ryan resumes, “We will travel in these two Mercedes minibusses.” He gestures at his subjects while speaking. “They are designed both for your comfort and to give you an unobstructed view of our gorgeous Irish countryside. Our drivers are professionals with many years’ experience and we assure you, your safety is paramount.”

Two more gentlemen wave as they complete safety walk-arounds of the twin vehicles.

“We have split you up between the two of us: for my bus we need Mr. and Ms. Chin, Mr. and Ms. Banks, Ms. Howerton and Mr. Neal. If you would please bring your bags around back, we will begin loading.”

I toss my day bag over my right shoulder, lift my suitcase and rod case, and follow his direction dutifully.