“And they lived happily ever after . . .” That is often the last line of fairy tales and feel good stories that are “only in the movies”. The last week of May leading into the first week of June was a time of goodbyes and endings. Archmere’s Baccalaureate Mass and Commencement Exercises for the Class of 2015 took place on May 30 and 31. In the midst of those special events, I learned of the death of Beau Biden ’87 on Saturday evening after coming home from the reception for students and parents attending the Baccalaureate Mass. The untimely death of someone so talented and caring, of a young man who stood on the Archmere stage 28 years ago, receiving his diploma and launching a successful career in public service after undergraduate and graduate studies, is so very difficult to understand. Just one week after holding a joyful reception for our graduates in the Patio, we held a reception after Beau’s Funeral Mass to acknowledge our feelings of sadness and loss, and to celebrate his life.
As the school year ended, we also said, “Farewell,” to four faculty and staff members. Ms. Kat LoMonaco, history teacher, and Mr. Bill Gabriel, campus minister, are moving on to other places. Ms. LoMonaco is moving to California with her family, and Mr. Gabriel is joining the Augustinian Fathers in response to a vocational call that he told us began when he was in second grade. Both expressed to us how difficult it is to leave the Archmere community. Ms. Ally McCord and Mrs. Rebecca Baeurle also shared that sentiment. Ms. McCord is moving on to the next step in her career, and Mrs. Baeurle is taking more time with her family, while remaining connected to Archmere as an involved parent of a graduate and volunteer. In all of these transitions, Kat, Bill, Ally, and Becky have added so much to help shape the Archmere community, and a part of their work remains with us and has made our community better. As their energy leaves us, new energy supports our work from others who will be joining us in the new school year.
In thinking about this time of year and all of the events of the last two weeks – graduation, a funeral, staff departures – I thought about separation and how it is often times not easy to accept. “Separate” comes from the Latin “se” (apart) and “parare” (prepare). To separate is to “prepare apart” perhaps something that once was being “prepared” together. That would imply that the energy of individuals who come together to “prepare” a community, who work to foster common goals and ideals, moves on to other communities, places, and even planes of existence, should they separate from the community. So, if we can reframe these transitions, these separations become in time more bearable, particularly when we have to deal with the separation that comes with the death of someone we love. I don’t believe it makes the separation any easier or better, but eventually, after time has passed, with the support of community and family, our hope and our faith grows stronger. We intuitively know that the final separation that death seems to create is much more like the separations we have to experience along the journey of life. In each case, we are called by God, by our inner voice, by our authentic self, to move toward the next part of our lives. And we know there will always be a “next part,” as predictable as the seasons.
At home we have a potted jasmine plant. We have had the plant for almost three years now, and each fall we bring the plant in from the patio and put it in the sun room for the winter, where is stays green without flowers until about March. Around that time, all of the leaves droop and start to whither and drop. After the first year, I thought it had died, but my wife cleaned away all of the wilted growth and put it back on the patio. By May, the plant had grown new leaves and buds. The same thing has happened each year since. Right now, the jasmine blossoms are plentiful and fragrant. As I was sitting next to the plant on the patio one evening after work, the fragrance of the blossoms made me think of how we have to cherish every moment, taking the time to notice even the smallest, but wonderful detail.
The cover of the June 1 Time magazine issue carries the heading, “Who Killed Summer Vacation?” with a photo of an empty beach. The article, written by Jack Dickey, reports that “American vacation time [is] rarer and more easily interrupted.” Some statistics reported include that 61% of vacationers plan to work during their time off, emailing, accessing work documents, texting, calling, and fielding work requests. In 1980, employed adults in the U.S. used an average of 21 paid vacation days compared to 16 days in 2014. Reasons given for taking less vacation include: having a heavier workload upon returning to work, no one else can do the work, can’t afford to take it, want to show dedication, and don’t want to be seen as replaceable. Whatever the reason, working people in general are feeling that they have more demands and responsibilities placed on them, and perhaps, in the process, the important details of life go unnoticed.
As we have come to an end of another school year and the beginning of another summer, I hope that all of us can adjust our routines to take some time to appreciate the fragrance of jasmine blossoms, spend time with people we love and appreciate, use some of those paid vacation days, and confirm our perspective on life – focusing on the people important to us and letting go of the worries and disappointments for a while. Perhaps refreshed and renewed in spirit, we will view the world a little differently, and even realize that it is possible to “live happily ever after.”