Paul's wife Debby was dying. They both knew it, and in their last Christmas together, she told him it was time for a talk. Hushing his protests, Debby assured Paul that they had a good life together, but she was worried about what would happen to him when she departed to God.
"She said when she was gone she didn't want me moping around feeling sorry for myself," Paul recalled. "She said that I was no good alone and I would just make a mess of things of by myself. She told me not to wait, but to find a new love right away."
Debby did add one precondition—"For God's sakes, don't marry some 25-year-old who'll break all my stuff." She and Paul shared the laughter, and about a month later, Debby was called home.
Starting anew wasn't quite as easy as just agreeing to do it though, and Paul spent several weeks just being alone with their dog, Belle. "I couldn't imagine a life with someone else," he said. "The hole Debby left was just too big. But it turns out that not only was Paul's late wife watching out for him, she had an army on the ground ready to do the same.
"One Sunday after Mass, one of her girlfriends stopped me and asked me if I had started dating as Debby had made me promise to," Paul said. "I was flabbergasted." He asked how the friend knew about the promise, but was brushed off and handed a copy of the parish bulletin. "Here," she said, pointing to the CatholicMatch ad. "Go to this website and maybe you'll meet a nice Catholic lady.
Paul was fortunate enough to meet some very nice Catholic ladies and dated one briefly. But the right connection wasn't quite there. Then he saw Maria's profile in 2012.
"She was educated and a college professor," he recalled. "She had these beautiful photos of herself and her daughter all over the world, so I wrote and asked about her travels." That was the connection they needed.
Maria had also shared the pain of losing a spouse, her husband passed away from cancer. They shared stories about their children, Maria's daughter and Paul's two sons. "We shared a mutual love for our children and pride not only in their accomplishments, but also in their struggles and how they dealt with them," Paul said.
The messages led to Skype, which Maria introduced to Paul. They were able to look into each other's eyes, and the saw someone special looking back at them. "She had heart and determination, beauty without being haughty and a spirituality that struck me like a thunderbolt," Paul said. "How could I not fall in love with her?"
There was still the question of meeting. Maria lives in Mexico, and while Paul is closer than most—on the border in East Texas—that's still 20 hours of driving time. Maria took the lead with an idea.
"I think she wanted to make sure I wasn't just flirting, so she challenged me to meet her and her daughter in New York City," Paul said. It turns out that Paul is familiar with the Big Apple, having grown up in New Jersey, and being stationed nearby during his tour of duty in the Navy. But even though the locale was familiar, this was still out of character.
"While I've done my share of traveling, the idea of dropping everything and flying to New York to see a woman who clearly seemed out of my league was not anything close to being normal behavior for me," Paul said modestly. "But drop everything I did."
In a scene that seems like it should have been a part of the Cary Grant/Deborah Kerr classic An Affair To Remember, Paul and Maria went looking for each other across Fifth Avenue in New York, with St. Patrick's Cathedral in the backdrop. From the distance of about a hundred yards, they spotted each other across the street, and Paul quickened his pace to reach Maria and embrace her for the first time.
"It was a wonderful adventure that felt so very natural," Paul recalled. "We rode the ferry out to the Statue of Liberty, we walked through the diamond district, through the shops on Fifth Avenue, and then atop the Statue of Liberty, we shared our first kiss."
Paul returned to East Texas knowing he had to see Maria again and he was soon on a plane for more adventures, this time in her hometown of Mexico City. "We toured ancient ruins a few hours from the city, sampled native foods from sidewalk vendors and simply enjoyed time to get know each other," he said. "Our time together was filled with magic."
More trips awaited, from Austin to New Orleans, where they marched in the St. Patrick's Day Parade (shown in the photo at the top). Maria and her daughter came to visit Paul in his home, and they spent this past Christmas together in Mexico City.
Paul and Maria recently got together with friends for a vacation on the Gulf Shores in Alabama. They arrived in the parking lot, and Paul suggested that before going up to their rooms, they go to the beach, and enjoy the full moon shining over the water.
"I ran several steps ahead of her and after we were halfway to the shore, I pretended to trip. As she rushed to help me up, I stepped to one knee, took her hand and asked her to be my wife."
Maria saw the ring and excitedly exclaimed "NO!" But in this case "no" meant "YES," and was confirmed by her repeatedly exclaiming "Oh my gosh, I'm engaged!"
Paul and Maria are planning a return trip to New Orleans for the St. Patrick's Day parade this coming March. But this time, before they march, a Monsignor that's a friend of Paul's, will marry he and Maria.
"In Maria, I have found someone who will walk beside me, who will encourage me when I need a little push, a partner, and the best friend I want to have beside me always. The crazy woman truly needs glasses because she thinks I am handsome! I'd be a fool to walk away from a woman like that."
And so, for the second straight time in his life, Paul picked a gem of a woman—with a little prodding from the first.