By Marty Folan
The sun shone bright every single day in the summer of 1980. Tennis, softball, running, friends and family and barbecues and Great America theme park outings and Pepsi vs. Coke cola wars and high school teen ministry and ice cream and a blue-eyed Irish Catholic girlfriend and perfect weather and not ever wanting the summer to end because it was set to the beat and rhythm of the most outstanding rock and roll and pop music ever.
I fell in love when Air Supply’s romantic sounds of love drifted through the car speakers. My life, then and in the future, became defined by Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right.”
Writing became my life breath. Every day I wrote. Page 1 in volume I of my journal was penned on June 15, 1980. Last night I penned page 7,000 in volume XXXI. The summer of 1980 was my golden year. I turned the same age as the date of my birth: 16 on April 16, the golden framework of my life.
Nineteen-eighty flowed into ’81 with the music, freedom, running and summer fun. Then, all of a sudden – it ended. My bicycle collided with an oncoming Jeep. In a coma with many broken bones, hell became my new home. Short-term memory wiped out. Unable to reason, process or think, my brain was a platter of scrambled eggs. My first attempt to use a walker, I felt like a tightrope walker above Niagara Falls. I cried out to God for help. “Please, Lord, give me a second chance and I will give you my life in return.”
Through a million prayers, hundreds of hours of rehab, counseling and tutoring, and infinite struggling to simply find a reason to live, a miracle happened. I got my second chance at life.
And at first, I used it to become a journalist. I wrote sports, hard news, features, and columns. I hit the jackpot in 1985: Marty Folan, Entertainment Editor, Daily Egyptian newspaper, Carbondale, IL.
To sit in an arena and feel the energy of Sammy Hagar screaming, “I Can’t Drive … 55!” and interview rock stars up close and personal. Then, to sit behind a computer screen and recreate the experience in my own words for thousands of readers to enjoy. And get paid for it? This is life! This is a dream come true! It doesn’t get any better than this.
Six years later, I set out on a jog. I felt whole. As my soul poured forth gratitude to God for the miracle of recovery and the second chance at life I had received through Him, the Holy Spirit rushed down upon me with a powerful, clear and simple message: It’s time to give back.
A visit to Alexian Brothers Medical Center and a heart-centered conversation with Fr. Richard Tessmer offered an invitation to explore what became my true calling: chaplaincy.
Over the next year and a half on Saturdays, I volunteered. Then it happened, a defining moment both in my life and in my career: “Marty, this is Julie in ED. We are bringing in a 17-year-old boy dead on arrival. Dr. Smith wants you to be with him when he tells the family.”
The boy’s name was Constantine, from a Greek family. All of them came, dozens of them. We prayed together. We cried together. We held onto one another as they said their final goodbyes.
Never did I ever feel as certain as I did that day about my purpose in life and serving God. It truly meant everything in the world to me, and from then on, the world became more sacred, meaningful, and beautiful. This was how I would give back for the second chance I received.
My shift ended, and as I walked outside, I burst out in tears. “This is what my family went through after my accident, only I got a second chance. Poor Constantine didn’t.”
I became a board-certified chaplain, and the healing power and grace of God flowed through me in ministry. Patients lost their limbs in accidents. Others struggled to make peace with loved ones before they passed away. Patients invited me into their lives as hospice chaplain to journey with them until their final breath.
But I still carry with me the passionate love for rock and roll and pop music that I absorbed from my family of musicians and singers. I discovered a rich and deep value in music that infused life with spiritual meaning, a depth that is part of me at every bedside encounter. The songs and lyrics continue to play in my heart and soul, like Mr. Mister’s 1985 hit “Kyrie;” George Michael’s “Praying for Time;” John Parr’s “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion);” Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky;” REO Speedwagon’s “Keep Pushin’ On;” Matthew Wilder’s “Ain’t Nothing Gonna Break My Stride;” and many more.
From when I first asked for a second chance to live, the Lord continues to invite me to serve. And I continue to respond, “Yes, Lord.”
This is life! This is a dream come true! And it keeps on getting better!
Marty Folan, BCC, is director of mission integration and spiritual care at Essentia-St. Joseph Medical Center in Brainerd, MN.