During the writing of the novel Godric, the most beloved and acclaimed of Fred’s books, Fred’s own life was in that particularly dark place as his family helped his daughter battle anorexia. That real 12th century English monk’s remarkable life, recorded in a Latin manuscript, is the tale of a man who lived a secular life for fifty years before giving his heart to God and living the next fifty years as an anchorite-type of hermit living next to the River Wear. The writing about that saint served as a saving grace for Fred as mysterious as any of God’s tender mercies. There was even the arrival of a stranger who came to Vermont, a professor of a family member who came to visit, who helped him translate that Latin manuscript for Fred. It was during this time that Fred had had to leave Montreat the first time he was there. It was soon after, after Fred had discovered that not only could he not save his daughter himself but that his love for her might even have been standing in the way of her healing, that Fred, back home to Vermont, opened the door to find Lou Patrick on his doorstep, unannounced, uninvited; just there. Fred would have been praying, praying hard for his daughter’s healing, but perhaps he, like Saint Godric, was asking himself this: “What’s prayer? It’s shooting shafts into the dark. What mark they strike, if any, who’s to say? It’s reaching for a hand you cannot touch.” Into the middle of Fred’s darkness, came a hand to touch. Really. He has written that that friend on his doorstep with no agenda and no words, with just a presence, was indeed sent from God. Afterward, in a June 8, 1981, letter to Lou, Fred says this about God:
“…and part of the adventure, it just begins to dawn on me – and maybe even the most important part and the part with vast stores of light and blessing in it – has been the growing realization of how richly and profoundly I have been ministered to. That sounds so churchy and unreal to my hopelessly secular ears. The language of it; but the truth of it is unavoidable….God’s jokes are so big and simple that nobody get them….I am just beginning to get at least one of them, which is that, yes, when you are desperate, he comes to you as he always said he would, sends his servants to you, to heal and help. He sent me most especially you – can I say that without causing you embarrassment?
Later in the letter, he writes about his desire to run away:
I had a desperate impulse to go away somewhere for a while for everybody’s sake…I came within an inch of phoning you and saying could you possibly go off on a trip with me somewhere – to Durham, England or Disneyland – or could I come down to Charlotte for a while to clean up the Sunday schools rooms or drive old ladies to church…but my job is here…maybe someday, when the clouds lift, there could be such a time. Do you suppose? Anyway – how lovely to be writing you, to have you to write to. With blessings always, Fred.
“To lend to each other a hand when we’re falling…Perhaps that’s the only work that matters in the end” Fred Buechner has Saint Brendan say this in his 1987 book Brendan, a novel about another saint, this time from 6th century Ireland. This ‘hand’ Lou lent Fred, a real hand that was attached to the real person of Lou Patrick on the real doorstep is mentioned again in correspondence between these friends – Fred asking Lou to visit in the summer of 1981 on the occasion of his 60th birthday, “when it might be especially comforting to have you on hand,” and another time saying, “This letter has no point other than to reach out and clasp your hand.”
From “Deep Calls Unto Deep: Reflections on the intersecting lives and writings of Fred Buechner, Tony Abbott, and Louis Patrick”