5: Miracle of the 3-hole Punch

The background: I came into the Church like most people in America at the Easter Vigil service. This was in 1996. I had discovered that there was a very comprehensive four-year Biblical Studies program offered by my Archdiocese that started in the fall and I arranged to go.

Now I am going to tell you about a miracle. When I am done some of you (more likely most of you) are not going to believe me. After all, anyone can write anything online. Probably most will believe I am not lying, also not hallucinating, but most likely just mistaken. 

At any rate, here’s the miracle – I’m using an old email I sent to a friend at the time trying to explain what happened. I was mostly trying to explain why the thing was so important to me, why I got so upset that I did what I did to find it. It’s not a great piece of writing but it is contemporaneous to the event pretty much.

I love all the things that surround the writing. I love paper and paper clips and tape and rulers and pencils. Pretty file folders in pastel colors. Notebooks to organize my work. Post-it notes. And my 3-hole punch. Took me years to get around to buying one. A heavy, black, metal, three-hole punch.

I have a pretty basic desk. Plain gray, three drawers on each side. The right hand top drawer is 12" wide, 15" long and 3" deep. In that drawer were six things. My cardboard pencil box with my sticky notes and labels. My glasses case that holds my computer glasses. A magnifying glass. A box of solid brass brads. A 12" metal ruler that lay up along the side of the drawer. And, flat against the front, where it fit perfectly because it is exactly 11" long, my three-hole punch. Six things, only and always, these six things.

When I moved out of my daughter’s house and into my present apartment, I was alone. I unpacked and set up my computer and put my things away in my drawers, but I couldn't find my three-hole punch. How the hell do you lose a big old metal thing like that? But it was gone. I looked at my daughter's house, looked at mine, got frustrated, figured it would show up. It never did. (Note: that was summer of 1995) That September I started RCIA. [Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults is the program one participates in to join the Roman Catholic Church, in most places in America. It often runs from September through Easter Vigil, it can vary by Diocese or parish.] I had an amazing journey into the Church as many do. But I didn't know how to pray, I had never made it a regular part of my life. So I started doing what I call "kitchen prayers." When I'd get up from TV or a book or the computer, I'd always walk through the kitchen to get to the rest of the apartment and I used those moments to chat with God. Just talk to Him like He was in the room. Short comments about whatever was on my mind, requests, thank-you’s, questions.

That spring after Easter Vigil, I decided to enroll in Biblical School which started in the fall. They started sending me all these handouts and stuff in the summer. I wanted to put them in a notebook. No three-hole punch. I looked and looked. Again. Searched my daughter's house. Again. I decided "Screw it, I'll go buy another one." Three office supply stores, no one had one like mine. They all had these handles that stuck up and wouldn't fit in the drawer, in the “three-hole-punch-space.” One place stocked the kind I wanted, but was out.

This became a huge deal to me. My papers were all discombobulated, I couldn't organize my schedule or my handouts and one day, I went a little crazy. I ripped my apartment apart. I looked under and in and behind everything. It wasn’t that hard, I don’t have that much. I pulled every box out of the closet and completely emptied them and repacked them. I crawled under the bed. I emptied the silverware drawer and everything else in the kitchen. I looked, believe it or not, in the refrigerator. Hours later, lastly, back to my desk. I took every drawer out of the desk. Looked in the drawer wells. Emptied the drawers of everything. Wiped them clean. Even the one with only five things, where the three-hole punch was supposed to be. Crazy and stupid. It isn't like I could miss seeing a big black metal punch in a drawer with five things in it. I put everything back. I sat at the desk, so frustrated and sad and pissed and stared at the open drawer, the empty space where my punch went, wishing it would just be there!

Finally, I shoved the pencil box against the front of the drawer where the punch used to go, slammed the drawer shut, stood up and said to God, "Father, I give up. I'll just wait until they get one in the store. But I'd really like it if You and Saint Anthony or whoever finds lost things would just find it and put it my drawer. Thanks." I wasn't serious; I just always talked to God about everything. This time I was bitching at God about something, I guess.

I stayed away from the computer and the desk for a few days. I was tired of thinking about it and the desk, itself, seemed like the source of my frustration. I didn't have any visitors, nothing odd happened. I didn't tell anyone. I let it go, forgot about it.

About three or fours days later, I finally sat down at my desk. and got online. After a while, I wanted to make a note of something I saw on a website, I needed a sticky note. I opened the drawer with my right hand, not thinking about it, still reading the words on the screen. I turned my head and looked down into the drawer.

There was my three-hole punch. The pencil box was moved up, the punch was sitting kind crooked in the drawer. It was covered with dust. Coated. Gray with dust. Undisturbed. Not a fingerprint or a mark.

I gently closed the drawer. I needed a second. Couldn’t be. But it was. For a split-second I wondered if I was having one of those really vivid dreams where you are sure in the dream you are awake. Nope. Was awake. Now this might sound stupid, but having been a cop, I started thinking along those lines. I remembered how dusty it was. I thought, “If someone touched it, it will have fingerprints.” I got my flashlight. Carefully opened the drawer. Still there. I didn't touch it. I took out what was around it, careful not to disturb it. I examined it. It was filthy with dust, like it had sat under a bed for a year. On one corner of the top that you push down on to punch the paper was what I can only describe as a tiny "dust bunny." A little glob of stuck together dust, hanging. I was able to examine the whole surface, there was not a fingerprint to be seen. Very carefully, I put the tips of two fingers under the top to lift it out. The instant my fingers made contact with it the metal handle, the dust bunny sort of disintegrated and fell into a little pile on the bottom of the drawer.

No one else had touched that punch.

The thing is, I didn't need any proof. I knew. I really knew when I first opened the drawer and saw it and this feeling of intense peace and comfort came over me for a second and in my mind, two words: "of course."

You see, the real message wasn't the miracle of some big old metal thing being transported outside the bounds of time and space, the message was: of course.
This very solid and equally mundane object was transported from an unknown location to my desk drawer. It was not in my apartment, so it had to travel about 7 miles, in Time/Space distance, having been left somehow at my daughter’s house when I moved. (I assume)

But even when some reasonable part of my brain said this couldn’t be, somehow it had been brought up to my apartment, I knew that it was a miracle. I knew because fragile dust clumps that fall apart at the first vibration don’t survive car trips and stair climbs. But, I knew, anyway. I knew in the way of knowing so many things. I just did. I think I knew a split second before I opened the drawer, sort of an early warning so I didn’t faint. I knew when I saw it and felt the loving peace, a kind of spitrtual embrace. But I wanted to know how and most of all: WHY? Why on earth would God make a miracle for me and such a, well, silly one? I mean, c’mon! Office supplies that miraculously appear? Healing I could understand, starving people who need food and get manna in the desert, I can go with that, but a

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.”
Isaiah 55:8

Well, yeah, Lord, I know, but…..uh…..well….okay. Boy, thanks a lot.

Obviously that wasn’t the end of it. I kept asking the why question and what I got for an answer was a memory:

I was in the kitchen starting dinner and my daughter, who was about seven, was in her room playing. She showed up in the kitchen doorway, her face a mask of tragedy as only your small child can reflect tragedy, her eyes filled with tears, trying to be brave. “I can’t find Barbie’s blue dress.” Barbie’s “blue dress” was a scrap of an old silk scarf that my daughter had found a way to wind around and tuck together to make what was to her child’s eye the most gorgeous gown for that doll. It never occurred to me to say that I was busy (which I was) and would look for it later. It certainly would never occur to me to say anything about how unimportant the loss of Barbie’s blue dress was. For my child, it was critical. So, of course, I stopped what I was doing, went into her room, and at the bottom of her closet, found the blue half-scarf and handed it to her.
If heaven consists of eternally being in the moment of seeing the look on her face when I gave her that rag, I will be quite satisfied. And I know that this answer was the greatest answer. God wanted me to know there is no greater power than love. And it was personal.  He loves me.  Something I still can't write without tearing up.

(About the pictures:  I thought I had lost them years ago, but recently they turned up.  I had written about this before and took them to illustrate, because people kept saying, "Well, it must have been in there, you just didn't see it."   So I recreated the incident a couple months later with a digital camera I borrowed. It was the best I could do at the time.  I took the picture from my eye position as I sat there, so you can see what I saw when I closed the drawer in the top picture and opened it a couple days later in the bottom picture.  That desk, to my dismay, was broken by movers and is gone, I still have the punch, of course, and that pencil box and the magnifying glass.  I might have that box of brads someplace and that ruler you can barely make out against the far side of the drawer is here by my desk. 

Anyway, when I found these pictures, that are only printed on poor quality printer paper and aren't very good, I decided to put them here just to show the situation as I saw it.  They are not "proof" of anything, they were not taken at the time.)