By Robert R. Schwarz
" My first memory of life was this white light coming down towards me, " said 55-year-old Mark Curran . "I had the feeling that I was going toward the light and my life was going to go beyond it. " Mark was in a hospital bed being given last rites by a priest. He was five years old and suffering car-crash injuries from which he is still recovering,
Today Mark believes that the light was God and that he was "chosen to stay on earth. " His faith is grounded on two incredible facts: One is that he and his five siblings survived that head-on collision which 50 years ago instantly killed his father , the driver; his mother, who was in the front seat holding Mark's four-year-old sister, was thrust through the windshield and died a week later. The other fact is that Mark and all of his brothers and sisters were within days taken in by neighbors , a man and his who knew Mark's family only by a connection to a friend of Mark's mother. The neighbors, Gene and Gerri Curran, adopted Mark and his siblings in 1976.
I paused our interview to ask Mark if he minded recalling these memories. " Not at all. It's obviously a big part of my life. " We talked in his home in Arlington Heights, Illinois, where Mark remains an active member of the St. James Catholic church and is serving his third year on the parish council. He wore blue jeans and a blue sweater , and his eyes, also blue, often widened while telling his life story. It was a story that often flashed back to incidents and people which he believed molded his life, especially his Christian faith.
For Mark, it all began on Dec. 27 when he was five years old and returning with his family in their station wagon returning from Quincy, Illinois to the family's home in Joliet , where a holiday party awaited them. They had been visiting Mark's grandparents at the Soldiers' and Sailors' home in Quincy , where Mark's grandfather was superintendent. The party fun was still going when news of vehicle's head-on crash on Route 66 reached the party-goers. According to one of the ambulance attendants , Mark's father lived long enough to moan to his six children, " Hold on, kids."
Besides Mark, the only other sibling hurt was a brother. Mark was put in a body cast and a steel plate inserted into his head; it still remains there.
"My left side is still somewhat paralyzed , "Mark said, and showed me how he was unable to pinch together three fingers on his left hand. "I had to learn to do everything again," he said. This included learning once more to speak, having to repeat his first grade schooling. and again being potty trained.
Mark and his brothers and sisters , who were raised Catholic, soon had Gene and Gerri for new parents, who were also Catholic. The Currans lovingly brought all of them into their home , which was five blocks away from Mark's original home. "Nothing like that happens without the Lord's hand ," Mark commented.
The Currans were childless but had just completed raising three children for Gerri's brother , a widower who now had remarried and wanted his children back in his home.
|College students Mark and Fran on a date in 1983.|
"I became Gene's special project," Mark said. " Because of my head injuries, he saw that I caught up on my education and worked very diligently, but he didn’t want me to go to any special education schools. I couldn't read nor concentrate and took after-school classes to correct my speech. To heal the paralysis in my left arm, I had to carry a brick in a bucket for some time. In high school in Joliet , Gene got me a reprieve from gym class so I could study reading more intently. I still have an issue with phonics [ the inability to associate certain letters with the sounds they commonly represent ] . " In a letter to parents of Mark's 1978 high school class, the principal added this note to the Currans' letter: " Thanks for sharing Mark with us. He is a good and beautiful person who struggles to give and be his best. "
Gene Curran died at age 65 , after a career of being a podiatrist and a high school science teacher. His wife died of lung cancer several years later while Mark was participating in the St. James program Christ Renews His Parish.
At Northern Illinois University, Mark majored in finance. Studying was difficult . " I prayed to do well," he said. " I wanted to be successful so I could give back to the poor and less fortunate. I told Gene, my dad , that I also wanted to be as successful as he was. I knew he was proud of me. " There he met his wife, Fran , while both were in their senior year.
Recalling all these memories moistened Mark's eyes. " My life is to never give up. Nowadays , you'd never know I had this partial paralysis on my left side. You'd never know that I had learning disabilities. " He paused , reflected , then exclaimed: " No matter what has resulted from all this, it doesn't faze me. I'm not afraid to die. "
New Job, New Phase in Life
Mark is a product specialist and development manager for In Jet Technologies, doing what he's been doing for 30 years—selling office solutions. Due to his childhood head injuries, he recently had to leave his last company due to overly demanding work. "This is a new phase of my life and probably the best thing that ever could happen to me ."
|Mark and Fran on Maui on 30th|
For fun, Mark plays golf—but not very well, he admits—and , for the last 15 years has participated in karate classes at the local park district. Karate, he says, " keeps my body stimulated , allows me to release tension, and keeps me disciplined. " He likes pizza and watching televised sports events , especially of the Big Ten colleges ( his twins attended one of them ) .
He'd rather "listen" to a book that read it. He said he still takes medication to help keep cognitively focused , then added: "But it's my faith that keeps me in balance. " Sharing this faith with the elderly is a major goal for him. One of his favorite quotes—which Mark paraphrased-- is from Thomas Merton, the renowned monk and author: "We may not know what the Lord wants us to do but we do our best to please Him ." Mark would also like to upgrade his lifestyle , which, he candidly admitted , would make him feel more comfortable living in what he perceives as the affluent culture of Arlington Heights.
He takes heaven quite seriously and wishes that everyone close to death who is clinging desperately to life would realize what " a glorious experience heaven is. " He looks forward to "the glorious day of being with my parents and with the Lord. " I didn't ask Mark if the catalyst of that wish had been that "white light" he experienced when close to death after the car accident. He did mention, however , that his favorite part of the church's Mass are these words from the Apostles' Creed: I believe in ….the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
Asked what he'd like people to think about him when he's been called to heaven, Mark said: " That Mark is a good person to simply sit down with and talk to. "
All comments are welcome.
© 2015 Robert R. Schwarz