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Coming Home: Is it God's Call or Will Nearly 106-Year-Old Kora Continue to Inspire Us All?

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“Kora! This is God. Go to the light. I repeat. Go directly to the light.”

These powerful words vibrated in the deepest recesses of 105-year-old Kora Hollinger’s ear (Yes..ear, not ears…more on this later), one evening in July, 2010. However, they must have just hit a wall and bounced right back out, as Kora barely took notice of them, preferring instead to eat her dinner and get on with her evening. Some say God speaks to us in strange ways, but this probably had to be one of the most unique ways in which God attempted to make His presence known to this feisty woman whom he had been tracking for over a century.

When God speaks, though, that doesn’t mean we will always listen, and in the case of my 105-year-old grandmother, if God doesn’t communicate at just the right moment, He’ll have to take a number (and preferably not hers!) and get in line. Kora has things to do and people to see. “I just don’t have time to die,” she has frequently said. Even if God makes His presence known on a Carnival cruise ship out in the middle of the ocean, that still might not be the right time to grab Kora’s attention. True to her proverbial style, she had things to do. If God was going to interrupt her, it would have to be on her time, not His. This particular afternoon was no exception.

The weather outside could not have been more idyllic. The warm sun still cast its brilliant, late afternoon glow across the shiny blue seas. A few billowy clouds decorated the pure sky. Light winds brought about sweet-smelling ocean breezes, and the peaceful waves dancing across the ocean’s surface were both mesmerizing and soothing.

Inside, the first dinner bell had just rung. Guests who had signed up for the early meal had already shuffled into their assigned seats in the main dining room. This 11-year-old family cruise ship had only been at sea for two days, so the hungry travelers were still all-too eager to indulge their taste buds in the bountiful flavors that were soon to come. Hundreds of excited travelers filled the room. There were a few empty chairs, probably reserved for those who thought they had their sea legs, but were probably still in their cabins, warding off the evils of sea sickness.

Without missing a beat, Kora had already found her seat and had settled in. Her white, crisp linen napkin was spread across her lap. Her water glass, filled just minutes before, bore witness to her thirsty mouth as a faint lipstick stain embraced its outer rim. She reached for the bread basket and then for a pat of butter.

“Where’s my dang knife?” she asked anyone within earshot. “I can’t eat my bread without my butter.”

The rest of her extended family, all 18 of them, were finding their seats and preparing for the delicious meal ahead. The dining room was a bustling affair of chattering patrons, busy servers, and noisy young kids who, despite just having filled themselves up with burgers and fries on the Lido Deck just two hours earlier, were already complaining of being “so hungry.”

My uncle Blaine, age 75, had recently purchased for his mom Kora a headset and microphone ensemble that Grandma could use so that she could enjoy all of the dialogue during the noisy meal with her family. Of all of her faculties in life, her sense of hearing has been the one most notably affected with time and age. When she was in her mid-70s, she awakened one morning and while walking around the kitchen, she felt a loud pop go off in her left ear. Initially startled, she soon realized that she was completely deaf in that ear. She could hear nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Relatively unfazed, Kora did see a doctor about it later that day, and he merely confirmed what she already knew.

“Yes, Kora,” he diagnosed. “You are deaf in that ear.” Grandma must have shot him a look that suggested, “No kidding? I could have told you that. Now you expect me to pay you?”

So, we all learned over the years, if you have something good to say about Grandma, sit on her starboard side. If you have something negative to say, position yourself on her port side.

The headset Grandma was using during this adventure was actually kind of bulky, similar to what radio talk show hosts and DJs might wear while on the air. There was a little black receiver box with a small dial that could be adjusted so that Grandma could determine the volume of what she heard. The corded microphone plugged into the box, and the cord was long enough so that it could reach people across the table and down at the other end if they wanted to converse with Grandma without shouting at the top of their lungs. If she liked what you had to say, the dial was turned up. If she disagreed with you, the dial was turned down. If she felt you had nothing better to say, the headset just came off.

During this particular meal, words of a more thundering nature echoed within her ears. As our entire family was eating their dinner, my cousin Jeff decided to play a little trick on our grandmother. Unbeknownst to Grandma, Jeff had taken the microphone and had pulled it back to our table, which was just behind Grandma’s table--with 19 of us in the group, we were divided amongst two dining tables.

Grandma was sitting at her table with her back to us. Jeff and I were facing the same direction as Grandma at the other table, so we had a clear view of her backside and all of her activity. Jeff elbowed me in the ribs and said, “Watch this,” as he put the microphone close to his mouth and slowly said the words in a deep, clear, and highly commanding voice: “Kora. This is God. Go to the light. Go to the light.”

At first, it did not appear Grandma had heard this mandate. Jeff assured me he had turned up the volume on the box. Grandma was just too busy eating her meal. So, he firmly and confidently repeated his request: “Kora. I said this is God. Please go to the light. I have been waiting for you for a very long time. Go to the light.”

By this time, I was cracking up so hard that I had almost wet my pants, something Jeff’s sense of humor had always managed to make me do ever since we were little kids. After this second request from “God,” we noticed that Grandma had temporarily put her fork down and lifted her head, looking left to right to see who could have possibly said that to her.

Jeff once again repeated into the microphone, “That’s right. You heard me. This is God. Go to the light.”

Grandma looked around once again. She did not utter a word. As the silence lingered and she apparently did not see any angels or hear any harps playing in the distance, she simply shrugged her shoulders and resumed eating. When there’s food involved, Grandma just doesn’t have time to go to the light. God would just have to wait. Her food was getting cold and she was running low on salt. That was truly an issue far more urgent and compelling than dealing with God.

(Copyright. 2011. Ann E. Butenas)

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