West Philly resident Ted Hannon dreamed as a child of escaping his difficult life by one day becoming a priest. He grew up with an abusive father and an alcoholic mother, and a life with his own room, a free car, and no need at all to impress girls seemed rather appealing in comparison.
Then one day, an experience he can't quite explain showed him the depth of the love that was present in his life already. He told this story in December at a FirstPerson Arts StorySlam where the theme of the night was "family matters."
Listen to the story above and read a transcript below followed by a Q&A with Hannon.
[The audio version above was produced by Kimberly Haas.]
I had a pretty crappy childhood. I had an alcoholic mom and a physically abusive dad. And I wouldn't trade them for anything in the world.
And I figured that out when I was in seventh grade, which is a pretty weird time to "know" anything.
Seventh grade was not a really good time for me, as probably not for a lot of people. I was a chubby kid with questionable hygiene and an alcoholic mom and a physically abusive dad. That's like the "best" situation in seventh grade, right?
And it's not like I could escape my home life by going to school — because who wants to be in school in 7th grade? Especially if you're the chubby kid with the bad hygiene.
So I was thinking: Maybe I should be is a priest. I think that might be the way to go. Because chicks don't like me, anyway. And I could probably get a free — at the time it would have been a free car, like a Chrysler K-car, I think. So that's pretty good. I could just give myself up to God or whoever and just live the rest of my life with my own room – because I had to share a room with my brother. So that was my plan. I was going be a priest.
A relative of my dad, this woman who was a nun, came to visit once. I was telling her about my plan to become a priest, and she wasn't sold that that was the right thing for me in the seventh grade. But she said, You know, we have someone visiting here who's from Ireland — a priest friend of hers — and she's like: you should talk to him when he's here.
He came over one Sunday and was actually saying a mass in our house. Which was a pretty weird thing, you know, especially for that house, you know, it's not the most holy of places.
So the mass is happening. I don't know if you've ever been to a Catholic serve, but at some point in the service, they do this thing where they say this mass is being said for so-and-so. At the time my mom's sister had just passed away, and it was a very difficult time for her. And also she was married to a physically abusive dude and was an alcoholic, so it was not a good time for her.
The priest comes to this point where has says, "... and this mass is being said for Molly," my mom's sister. And I remember looking at my mom as the priest was saying this. She's on the couch, and she's looking so vulnerable and so sad and so present with this grief. And next to her is my dad. I've never seen him like this either – this fist that he normally has is just sort of relaxed, and he's just holding my mom's hand, and tears are welling up in both of their eyes.
I'm looking at them in this way I've never seen them before, and I see this thing is sort of coming at me out of the corner of my eye. And I can't quite figure what it is.
If you've ever seen "Predator," there's this weird thing where he's sort of camouflaged. It's just sort of this invisible thing that's coming at you.
And this thing is approaching me, and I don't know what to do with that. And the other field of vision is my parents in this really vulnerable moment. And it's going back and forth between my parents and this thing that's getting closer and closer.
And as it's getting closer, I am terrified. I don't know what to make of it, and I can't even speak. And it just gets closer and closer and closer. And tears are starting to well up in my own eyes. And it sort of passes through me. It hits me and passes through me — like "Ghostbusters," which is another film of the time that that happened. But that's sort of what it feels like. It just moves through me and comes out the other side.
And I realized at that point this thing that happened, this presence that I felt was — for lack of a better word, it was love. And it was that moment, that moment I remember so distinctly, that I understood what made the world go round. It was that compassion and kindness that my parents had for one another, even despite all the things they were trying to not be — you know, not be the alcoholic, not be the physically abusive dad — to be people that just wanted to care for each other. And I felt so lucky to have understood that that's what life is all about.
Powerful insight for seventh grade. How has this carried with you into your life as an adult?
The one thing that I know, the only thing, is that life is supposed to be about love and compassion and empathy. That's why we're here, and it's what we're supposed to practice. It's what I think it means when we say that we're all just trying to make it. It's this sublime little truth that anchors me, no matter how far I drift from it. It brings me home. It would suck if I was wrong about this. But I just don't see how I could be.
Were you ever able to tell your parents about your experience on that day; and how did it affect your relationship with them?
I have told both of them about it, separately, but never explained to them how it made me see them. I just told them how it made me see love. I was probably 35 by the time I got around to talking to them about it.
The first guy I ever told about my experience was a plumber in North Carolina, when he asked me if I had accepted Jesus Christ as my savior. It was a "No, but get this ..." type conversation.
How are your parents doing today?
They are just trying to make it in Orlando and Derry, Northern Ireland reapectively.
We understand you are a writer and a filmmaker. Tell us about your work.
I am writing jokes and micro fiction, developing several websites, including a fake Scandanvaian design firm site and an interview site called TedsTalk. While my paying gig is technically an IT job at a Dutch finance company, I have also somehow convinced the executive management team there to be videotaped with me interviewing them while wearing a $9 super hero costume (The Flash).
Ted Hannon works in IT in Wayne, Pennsylvania, and spends the rest of this time living, writing and making small movies in West Philadelphia.
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