When I arrived home from work, I saw a package marked U.S. Postal Service Library Mail waiting for me on the kitchen table. I glanced at the return address with its familiar square lettering.
“Frank has sent me another book,” I told my husband. “I’ll open it after supper.”
I had first become acquainted with Frank 14 years ago when I became religion editor at a large city newspaper. I’ll never forget his first words because they became a part of my weekly conversations with him.
The phone rang like clockwork the day after the newspapers hit the streets, and I would answer: “Newsroom, Linda Andrade Rodrigues speaking,” and I would hear: “This is the atheist,” which would be followed by probing questions about the subject of my latest story.
While attending a religion journalist convention in Salt Lake City, I stayed with Mormon friends, former missionaries back home. After I wrote a column about the experience, Frank showed up in the Newsroom, and I met him for the first and only time, face to face.
That day I was covering for the editorial page editor, and he marched into her office and plied me with questions about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
As we were walking back to my cubicle, he said, “You’re much prettier in person than in the paper.” These were the first kind words he had ever uttered to me, and I did my best to remember the compliment when he was raking me over the coals, tearing apart my stories and what he conceived were misguided beliefs.
But over the ensuing years, Frank’s fury mellowed and was replaced by genuine inquisitiveness, and I started to look forward to his calls. He mailed me religious books that I used in my research, as well as envelopes filled with incendiary stories, written by atheists and secularists, that I immediately pitched into the trash.
When I left the newspaper, he continued to send clippings to my home, as well as an annual Christmas card and accompanying book.
So when I received the package three weeks ago, I perceived it to be an early Christmas gift from an old friend.
I tore open the package and read the note clipped to the book “Muhammad and Jesus – A Comparison of the Prophets and Their Teachings” by William E. Phipps:
Dear Mrs. Rodrigues,
My brother Frank who passed away September 23rd wanted you to have the enclosed book. My husband finally found it among Frank’s many books.”
It is my sincerest prayer, dear friend, that you have reached the Promised Land; and all your many questions have been answered.