Dear Fountainpen,

Tame chipmunk "Chippy"  admiring one of your note cards

Tame chipmunk “Chippy” admiring one of your note cards

Dear Fountainpen,

On Sunday we carried our ceramic Christmas tree–the one Barry’s mom crafted for us many years ago–upstairs from the basement.  I discovered some of your hand-crocheted snowflakes and sprinkled them beneath the green tree.

You’ve been my friend since 2009, a blog reader extraordinaire, devouring my stories about trees, nature and our Little House in the Big Woods of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

From below, through trees

You may have liked this picture of Bishop Baraga, our snowshoe priest

At first I knew practically nothing about you.  You seemed like you shared of yourself with invisible ink.  You gave, gave, gave with your commenting, your support, your encouragement.  But when I asked anything about YOU–anything vaguely personal–you deferred.  Demurred.  Gestured toward something else, anything else.  Your message seemed clear:  I’m not going to tell you anything about myself.

You sent gifts via snail mail:  homemade note cards galore, tea bags, a cinnamon-infused whisk created from tiny branches.  You asked to use a few of my photos on your cards.  You sent more note cards in the mail.  After my 365-day outdoor blog you traveled back through every month and made cards from one photograph each month.  I wrote a blog to thank you called Ode to Fountainpen. You gave, gave, gave, didn’t you, dear woman?

Cards you made me

Cards you made me

As we exchanged notes and letters, you opened the door slightly and shared your real name on the return envelope.  Fountainpen lived in the world as a woman named Mary Lou Knapke of Norwood, Ohio. Wrong move, my friend, if you hoped to remain anonymous!  I turned to Google to discover the scoop.  Who was Fountainpen really?

Turns out you were a Catholic nun in the order of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati.  I was delighted to discover this.  I felt we had a spiritual bond–even though I often called God “The Universe” in my blogs.  Apparently that was not enough to turn you off.  You never seemed mired in fundamentalism or rigid dogma.  Instead, you seemed to be an agent of love, of ministry, of giving, of charity.  You often sent out email messages with prayers for the poor, the sick, the trampled, the disenfranchised.  You were a missionary of Jesus sending out love with every note card, gift and comment.  And you were a missionary for nature, loving the earth with a passion.

Once, during one of my several blogging breaks, you sighed and asked, “Why can’t you see your writing and photography as your calling, Kathy?”  I keep coming back to your question as the years pass, thinking about this.  Pondering what a calling might be.  Wondering more about you and your calling to serve God.

Oh don't you love trees

Oh don’t you love trees

This past Sunday I dug out scraps of paper stock and pictures and started making homemade Christmas cards.  What card shall I send you this year, dear Fountainpen?  For some reason, I did not create one–nothing seemed quite right.

On Monday morning realized I hadn’t heard from you in about a month.  Your last email dated November 2nd expressed delight in my post Breathing with Trees.  You included this quote:

“….There is no whit less enlightenment
under the tree by your street than there was
under the Buddha’s bo tree.”
-Annie Dillard, FOR THE TIME BEING, p. 88
Suddenly, on whim, I turned to Google and typed in:  Mary Lou Knapke Obituary.
It turns out you have died.
Unexpectedly.   In your home.  On November 6th.
I cried so hard sitting here at this computer.  Hard racking sobs.  Not since my dad passed away have I wept so hard, so deeply, so fully.

One of your sweet birch bark turtle cards

Oh, dear Fountainpen.  You are gone.  I knew you were experiencing atrial fibrillation last summer.  That you were hospitalized briefly.  That you were scared.  I attempted to console you by sharing that Barry has had afib for many years. You were hopeful.  You came home, you seemed fine, you created dozens upon dozens of cards this fall and offered them to your friends if we wanted to donate to charity.
Here is your obituary, just in case other readers might want to read.  You were but 77 years young. A representative of the Sisters of Charity sent this In Memoriam posting from their website.
Turns out you gave to others in so many ways.  After teaching and pastoral ministry assignments, you learned massage therapy and shared it with so many.
“As a member of the Ohio Massage Disaster Response Team, she spent four separate weeks in the days following 9-11 in New York City in 2001 and 2002. The team provided free services to exhausted rescue workers and caregivers working near the site of the Sept. 11 tragedy; they listened, massaged and comforted. Sister Mary Lou was quoted at the time, “Human touch is so powerful to nurture and bring a person home inside themselves. It is a human ministry to human exhaustion and human pain.” They provided similar service to rescue workers and security personnel in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and those responding to the floods in Kentucky in 2003. Sister Mary Lou was also trained as a mid-life directions consultant and served as the ongoing coordinator of the After-Crisis Care Team.”
knapke, mary lou.jpg
Dear Fountainpen, I know you are probably shaking your head in heaven at all this attention.  You’ve never been one that felt comfortable receiving attention.  You’d probably still rather be anonymous in death.  I just want you to know that you have made a difference in my life.  A huge difference.
The representative at Sisters of Charity wrote this:
She was truly loved by many and will be deeply missed.

Fountainpen, I will miss you.

With love and admiration,  Kathy

About Kathy

I live in the middle of the woods in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Next to Lake Superior's cold shores. I love to blog.
This entry was posted in December 2018 and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

54 Responses to Dear Fountainpen,

  1. wsquared says:

    What a lovely tribute. I’m so sorry for your loss, and the loss to all of us of such a lovely soul. Beautiful. Thank you.

  2. Carol says:

    That is, indeed, a touching tribute to a dear friend that was yours because of the digital age. What a treasure that kind of friendship is.

    • Kathy says:

      Yes, if it wasn’t the digital age, many of us wouldn’t know one another. I often wonder what has happened to some blog readers who “disappear”. Did they pass on? Unless we’re also friends on Facebook, we may not hear.

  3. john k. says:

    Spiritual sisters whose love, admiration and respect transcended place, time and earthly existence.

  4. Oh, Kathy, I’m so sorry! Though I knew Fountainpen only through your blog, and her comments on your writing, I feel the loss, too. Thanks for sharing some of the many ways she touched your life!

    • Kathy says:

      Cindy, I am glad you remember Fountainpen through my blog. She (mostly) quit commenting on WordPress in recent months, but often sent an email comment to share her thoughts. She was a precious human being. *tears up*

  5. Oh Kathy! A loss is so hard to endure sometimes. People returning to spirit leave us such space to fill don’t they. I love you my dear ‘oldest in the best sense’ friend. ❤

    • Kathy says:

      Barbie, you’ve said it well. Those who pass leave a space, an emptiness, a hole. We can no longer connect with their being in their physical incarnation, but need to grow wings in our heart so that love can keep us close. I am liking that “oldest in the best sense”, my friend. xoxoxo

  6. Joan Haara says:

    Oh man,….what a tale you have shared with us about this wonderful woman. She is smiling down at you from Heaven, I have no doubt. And I truly think you touched her life in the same way. Soul mates. We treasure the unique individuals who fill that role for us. You were both blessed.

    • Kathy says:

      Joan, it is so interesting. So many people touch our lives in so many ways. What Fountainpen did, though, is that she never gave up with her giving. She always continued sharing, no matter what. I can give to another person once or twice. But Fountainpen gave and gave and gave. I am in awe of that, and hope to emulate. (By the way, do I know you? Strangely enough I saw your name last night on Facebook and wondered if we had met. I am terrible with names and faces, so please let me know if we’ve met.)

  7. dawnkinster says:

    Oh Kathy, Such a loss, to the world, to her church, to her family and friends, and to you. I’m so sorry. I remember her comments going back years. I think she may have commented on a post or two of mine too. She was lovely. I’m sending comforting thoughts to you and everyone that knew her. You wrote a beautiful piece. I’m sure, if she could, she’d leave you a thank you comment.

    • Kathy says:

      Dawn, yes, such a loss to all those who loved dear Fountainpen. I sent a copy of this blog to the Sisters of Charity, just in case they might forward it to those who knew and loved her. I would love if some of her friends might read this and share their own experiences of her. Thank you so much for your words of comfort…

      • dawnkinster says:

        My experience, when I’ve written a tribute such as this, is that it does indeed find itself being read by family and friends who always appreciate learning more about their loved one as seen through the eyes of people that didn’t know. I believe your piece will provide comfort to people you’ve never met.

  8. Ally Bean says:

    What a sad way to learn of her passing. Yet what you wrote about her is so positive and beautiful. The Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati are such a big part of this region, known for kindness and for having a sense of humor. I’m happy that you got the chance to know one of the Sisters.

    • Kathy says:

      Ally, I am so thrilled to think that you might know of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati! I have never heard of them before. It tickles me that they are known as kind and with a sense of humor. Fountainpen was dear, indeed, and it gives me hope that there are people like her in the world.

  9. Osa says:

    You dear one are a blessing in my life. Thank you for this rich and heartfelt story. I fell in love with her too. 💜💜

  10. sybil says:

    Kathy, you have written a lovely tribute to “Fountain pen” … I knew her only from your references and her comments on your posts. I send you a virtual hug my dear.

    • Kathy says:

      Hey, dear Sybil, thank you for that virtual hug. I guess some of our virtual friendships are worth more the gold and silver of the world’s passing friendships. I sometimes wonder how we’ll know what happened to our dear friends when they disappear or go silent. It is really good to know what happened to Fountainpen.

  11. Kathy — This is a beautiful tribute to Fountainpen. Simply beautiful.

    • Kathy says:

      Laurie, you’ve probably heard me mention Fountainpen’s name over the years. And now you know “the rest of the story”…or a little bit more anyway. I would have liked to have known her in person. Thank you so much.

  12. Bonnie says:

    Kathy, this is so sad, that a bright light has gone out down here, but the sky will sparkle a little bit more now. She was such a beautiful person, but I didn’t know this until I read what you have written. We should strive to be as giving as Fountain Pen. The world would be a better place. I send you hugs as I realize how much a person can mean to you, despite the fact that you have never met in person.

    • Kathy says:

      Isn’t that true, Bonnie? I was shocked at the depth of my grief the other morning for Fountainpen. Will surely miss this special being, and perhaps try to be a little more generous after seeing her example.

  13. rehill56 says:

    Oh. My heart aches reading this. Crying too. What a beautiful tribute to her and her generous, kind spirit. Love you dear Kathy.

    • Kathy says:

      Ruth, how dear that you were crying when reading this, too. I wrote a response to you on Facebook about her project last winter collecting wool sweaters–and how she insisted upon paying you for the fruits of your labor. That was another aspect of her. Love you, too…

  14. Kay Rogge Martinac McIntyre says:

    What a beautiful tribute to your friend. So sorry for your loss.

  15. sherrysescape says:

    Kathy, you are truly a heartful woman and I’m very proud to know you.

  16. I was so sorry to get to the part that she had died even thought I knew from the way you were writing that you would write about her demise. I am sorry for her order if sisters and for all he knew her and I am sorry for you to have lost an important person in your life. It is too bad that you never knew her in person and now you left probably left with some regrets as well. There is a lesson in your post even if you did not intend one.

    • Kathy says:

      Yvonne, thank you so much for your kind and loving words. I am sorry for her order of sisters, too. And wondering about how many other friends she made across the world and if they know of her passing. I am also thinking about your comment about regrets. She was very concerned about my health, and I think I brushed her away a little too quickly because I don’t like to talk about my health issues. So I do regret that. Blessings to you…

  17. Lori says:

    Oh my, I’m imagining the surprise to find out she was a nun. She sounds like the epitome of unconditional love. What a gift to have those cards, and a great idea. I’m saddened to hear that this earth has lost her, but the heavens rejoice. I understand why you’d sit at your computer and sob for your sweet Fountain Pen friend. Hugs of comfort to you, Miss Kathy.

    • Kathy says:

      Lori, I was so thrilled to discover I had a nun friend! *smile* That seemed the coolest thing of all. Except she did not want to dwell on it. I tried really carefully not to share that here on the blog, to honor her. I keep thinking of more Fountainpen stories. Once she decided I had to have a special ceramic tea pot. This time she didn’t gift me–she basically just told me I needed to buy one. So what did I do? Of course I bought one. LOL! Thanks for your hugs of comfort…

  18. Women like Fountainpen – Mary Lou – are the silent sumptuous souls who keep love strumming in this chaotic world of ours. Women like Fountainpen want to be private, unknown, nun-like (literally and figuratively) in their devotion to others, and to their God (the Universe). I bow down to her in gratefulness and love and blessings. Thanks for bringing her to our souls’ knowledge, Kathy. Mary Lous are the ones who should be on the front page of every paper. ❤

    • Kathy says:

      I like how you wrote this, Pam. “silent sumptuous souls who keep love strumming”. Wow. What a way of putting it. I’m not sure I have ever known another person like her. Bowing down in gratefulness with you. Thank you, dear friend.

  19. This is a beautiful tribute to your friend.

  20. P.j. grath says:

    I remember her comments on your blog. Your ode is lovely. What a sweet, generous friend she was to you and, I know, many others!

    • Kathy says:

      Pamela, I find it fascinating that so many of you remember her. Admiring your memory! That’s the kind of thing that I tend to forget rather quickly. Sigh. She was sweet and generous and it was very special to know her all these years.

  21. Robin says:

    I’m so sorry, Kathy. This is such a wonderful tribute of love for your friend. I only knew her through the comments on your blog and it was nice to get to know her a little bit more through your post.

    • Kathy says:

      Thank you, Robin. I keep looking at her crocheted snowflakes under the Christmas tree. I also put out the last of her note cards to keep remembering her this holiday season. It felt wonderful to have a nun-friend, too.

  22. Elisa says:

    Oh tears, more from your sharing and making it real. The words we read have real people behind each and every one of them. Thank you for sharing your process.

    • Kathy says:

      Oh Elisa, it is so sweet that this touched you so deeply that tears arose. Yes, to flesh out the “real people” behind our words, especially here in the online world. Sometimes part of me gets frustrated because I can’t really get a fleshed-out feel to someone. It’s like an online presence sometimes feels like a jigsaw puzzle with only some pieces included. And then we tend to paint in the missing pieces…which may or may not be true. Thank you for your lovely comment.

  23. Val says:

    I’m so sorry, Kathy. She sounds like she was a precious being. x

  24. Reggie says:

    Gosh, Kathy, I have only just read this blogpost… I have been catching up slowly with a lengthy backlog. I too remember Fountainpen – she often left such lovely comments on your blogposts. What a beautiful, heart-warming tribute to her. I’m sure she would be smiling at you from heaven! Hugs!

    • Kathy says:

      Reggie, so glad that you remember Fountainpen, too. Days will pass and I sometimes forget that she’s gone–and then it will come back. What a precious person she was.

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