I don't hear the name Claire very often, so when I do, I tend to light up. And when it's around Easter, I light up even more.
Such was the case last week when I became aware of a 2017 video of a little girl and her dad, Claire and Dave Crosby, singing "You've Got a Friend in Me" from Toy Story 2. Claire, just 4 years old at the time, could not be more adorable. The video resurfaced as a possible antidote to the anxiety resulting from the coronavirus scare. Trust me, it is. I recommend, as I have been, starting every day with it.
Claire, spelled with an "i" just like this little girl's, was my mom's name. It's unique connection to Easter is something my mom and I learned about together.
My mom was living with me in 2001 and as I knotted my tie getting ready for a day of college teaching, I heard the words "Basilica of St. Francis" on the television in my bedroom and darted downstairs to flip on the TV for her. She was drinking coffee and praying at the kitchen table. "Mom," I said, "come see this."
I was not pressed for time, so I sat down with her and we were soon surprised to see the documentary was not so much about the Basilica of St. Francis as it was the Basilica of St. Clare.
Both are located in Assisi in the Umbria region of Italy. I had never heard of the Basilica of St. Clare until I had visited that region a couple of years earlier. The basilica was closed at the time due to damage from an earthquake in 1997, but I was able to purchase a small statue of St. Clare for my mom in a gift shop across the street.
St. Clare founded the religious order The Poor Clares. Mom and I learned from the documentary that she chose to live in poverty, sleeping on a slab of hard wood and barely eating enough to stay alive. She and St. Francis were contemporaries and she and her fellow sisters were still living in Assisi a few years after St. Francis' death when Pope Gregory IX arrived for his canonization.
Pope Gregory decided to join Clare and her sisters for lunch and, although all she could offer were loaves of stale bread, she was honored. But when the Pope asked her to pronounce the blessing over the meal, she was horrified. How could she, a lowly servant, pray aloud in front of the Holy Father? But the Pope insisted and Clare humbly obliged.
The legend goes that everyone closed their eyes while Clare prayed, and when they opened them, they were stunned to see a cross had arisen on top of each loaf of bread. This, it is said, was the beginning of the tradition of hot cross buns at Easter.
Upon hearing this, my mom and I looked at each in disbelief. Everyone who knew my mom knew she loved hot cross buns.
There's more to this story. The very day mom and I watched this program together on TV, I was to have a guest in one of my classes. A student, a woman in perhaps her mid-30s, had asked if she could bring her daughter to school. She said her little girl, 10, was to have a dental procedure the day before and if she were brave, she could come to my class as a treat. I remember saying I didn't know how much of a "treat" a college class could be but she certainly was welcome.
Well, it turned out the girl's name was Clare (no "I"). I immediately told her about the TV show that morning and she said she knew all about St. Clare and St. Francis. That's why, she was proud to say, she was taking Francis as her middle name at Confirmation. I told her that is my son's middle name too.
There's more still.
About six or seven years ago I met a student named Clare. Of course, I told her all about Mom and St. Clare and young Clare Francis. I joked that her name would earn her an "automatic A."
"You'll never believe this," she said the next day, all excited. "I work at a restaurant and when I walked in last night, the special on the chalkboard was Mahi Mahi St. Clare."
The dish, it turns out, is named for Lake St. Clare, located in Ontario, Canada, and Michigan, and named in 1679 by French explorers who first sighted it on the Feast Day of St. Clare.
With all of our sheltering in place and social distancing, I had lamented on Palm Sunday that it didn't even feel like Easter was near. Well, it does now. All because a little girl named Claire with her innocent, angelic voice miraculously showed up in my world. And brought my mom, gone since 2003, along with her.
I'm heading out to look for hot cross buns.