Endings

Unknown“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.”

 

 

Fathers and Sons

I was once like you are now, and I know that it’s not easy,

To be calm, when you’ve found something going on.

But take your time, think a lot,

Why, think of everything you’ve got.

For you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not.

“Father And Son” by Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam), 1970


My father died when I was 13 on Mothers’ Day, the year before my freshman year at Archmere. This year marked the 42nd anniversary of his death. It is hard to believe that it has been that long, because I often think about him.

father_son_silhouette

My father was hard working and family-oriented. I remember my dad working around the house on weekends, fixing the cars, repairing window screens, digging in the garden, and taking care of projects for his mother – my grandmother, who lived next door to us. On Sundays, he wore a white shirt and tie all day, from morning Mass to afternoon walks with me along the Delaware River, sometimes to get an ice cream cone at one of the only places open on Sunday in those days.

My father had to quit school when he was in the eighth grade at age 13 or 14, because his father died suddenly at age 50, leaving behind his 40-year-old wife and eight children. My father, being the oldest, had to grow up quickly and take responsibility for providing for the family. He and his oldest sisters left school and began to work – his sisters in the mills on the Brandywine, and my father in a variety of jobs that led him to become a mechanic on the Penn Central Railroad.

Every morning, my mom and dad woke up at 5:30 a.m., and she would send him off to work with his lunch. Sometimes, I would wake up and hear them talking over morning coffee, not understanding the words, but knowing that the conversation was about my three brothers and me, about the extended family, and about getting through the day, the week, the year.

At 4 o’clock every afternoon, my dad would return home, eager to hear about all that happened in my day at school. We would sit down to dinner at 4:30, and sometimes not leave the table for more than an hour or two. My dad was interested in everything I was learning, and everything I did, as he was with all of my brothers. But I recall that as I got older, and my brothers who were 14 to 18 years older than I were married and moved out of the house, I enjoyed the sole attention of my dad at weekday dinners.

Twenty-six years after he died, it was memories of my dad that encouraged me to pursue my doctorate degree. Because he was only able to have an eighth grade formal education, my father instilled in each of his four sons the belief that education was critically important, not just to be successful, but to complete a life journey of inquiry, discovery, and fulfillment. Not having the opportunity to receive advanced degrees, Dad schooled himself by regularly reading the Bible, pouring over the daily newspapers faithfully, and listening critically to the nightly news. Debate on any subject was common in our house – that’s how I knew my Dad.

I have often wondered what our lives would have been like if he had not died so young. While I have so many wonderful memories, it is curious to me that they are not focused around those things we had in common – hobbies, father-son projects, and other bonding experiences. I know he enjoyed music, as do I, and he was always interested in my academic studies. But he and I never spent long periods of time together doing things. We didn’t fish, or hike, or camp together. He was not a sports enthusiast; nor was I, so we didn’t go to games or even watch sports on TV.

My father enjoyed repairing cars and fixing things, and I had little interest in any of it. But I will always miss him, and I will always think of us as close.

child_holding_hand

In 1990, my wife and I had our first child – a son. Two years later, we had our second child, a daughter. Through the years, I often thought about my relationship to my children as their father, reflecting on my own relationship as a son with my father.

Particularly as they moved through their teen years, I thought about how I never had the experience with my father that were having with me as theirs. Sometimes, I felt disconnected from their interests and daily lives, and I did not have my experience with my dad to know if that was “normal” in the growing up process.

As an example, our son is artistic and athletic. He enjoys all sports. My foray into sports was trying out my freshman year for Archmere’s Track team. Let’s just say I “hit the wall” about a quarter of the way through the second lap. I can still point to that spot on the track where it wasn’t pretty. And that was the extent of my Archmere athletic experience – one and a quarter laps.

Now I have a son who is a three-season sports enthusiast! I wonder how our relationship will mature in the coming years, particularly our conversations using sports vocabulary.

Just two weeks away from Fathers’ Day, we finished the impressive Baccalaureate and Commencement Exercises for the Class of 2014. This emotional time of beginnings and endings, punctuated by thoughtful speeches and heartfelt congratulations, often causes us to pause and reflect on what we truly value, and what is most important in our lives. We recognize the commitment, resources, and relationships that have been invested in these wonderful graduates, with the hope and prayer that they will live fulfilling and happy lives.

As they grow and mature, I pray that you, their parents, seize those opportunities when you can enjoy their successes and support them in their difficulties. And I also pray that you not be discouraged or feel as though you have lost touch, should there be times when you may not feel connected or even shut out from their lives, wondering about how relevant you will be when they become independent adults.

I believe that, while I may not have fished with my son or my father, took apart and reassembled a car engine with my son or my father, or even used the correct terminology to describe a play in hockey, football, baseball, basketball, soccer, rugby, etc., with my son or my father, they both know how much I love them. And the same is true with my daughter, who has an incredible work ethic and unique creativity that continually amazes me.

From my humble experiences, I can say that love supersedes all experience. And if we continue to express the love that creates us and binds us, as we palpably felt at the Baccalaureate and Commencement Exercises for the Class of 2014, then we can only provide the correct measure of support for our children who will respond in kind.

Best wishes to the entire Archmere community over this well-deserved summer break. I look forward to hearing about the countless summer adventures when we return to campus in the fall!

25,000 Mornings

25,000 mornings… I heard in this recent tourism commercial that the average person lives 25,000 mornings. Of course, the commercial is advertising a vacation destination, but I hang on to the idea of 25,000 mornings and find the thought to be one for deeper reflection.

I started to think, “How many mornings did I already? How did I ‘feel’ most mornings? Who was around me on those days? If I can think of my lifetime in ‘mornings,’ how does that change the way I think about new beginnings, opportunities, and changes in my life?”

About the same time I heard the commercial, I was praying with a group of administrators before the start of a meeting, and the reflection was based on Mark’s Gospel for the daily Mass, in which he writes:

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

He replied, “What do you wish me to do for you?”

They answered him, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.”

Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the chalice that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

They said to him, “We can.”

Jesus said to them, “The chalice that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those whom it has been prepared.”

When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John. Jesus summoned them and said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not want to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

(Mark 10:37-45)

Jesus was explaining that to follow him was to experience the trials of life that each day brings. It is a journey of faith, with a reward for those worthy – “for those for whom it has been prepared.” The disciples were on their way to Jerusalem with Jesus when they asked him to be with him “in glory.” They did not know the kind of suffering and death Jesus would face, nor did they fully understand his resurrection from the dead that would follow. These are not everyday events that the disciples could grasp.

Twenty centuries later – or about 730,000 mornings after – we can witness the miracle of resurrection with each new day born out of the last day’s night. We can see the death-life cycle in nature all around us. We might even consider that each increment of time is filled with life before dying, only to give way to the birth of the next minute or second.

Death and resurrection are all around us, all of the time, and we need only to reflect on how we might see it so that we may see it.

Just last weekend, the Class of 2013 graduated from Archmere Academy, with Baccalaureate Mass on Saturday evening and Commencement on Sunday morning. The cliché phrase is to say that graduation is not an ending but a beginning. This is true, but it takes vision and a point of view to see that same moment of graduation as a beginning rather than an ending.

We wish our newest Archmere alumni continued success in their future careers. As students, most of them spent four years (that’s about 1,461 mornings counting a leap year) working and achieving with friends, making the most of the experience. It was the students, along with the faculty, who set the tone for each school year with the energy and focus they contributed each day to being present and moving toward their future goals.

How do we choose to wake up each morning? Can we, perhaps, not forget the past, but recognize taht it ahs happened and cannot be undone? If we can accept this, then we will not live in the past or let it define the present or future.

I have found this very difficult to do at times, particularly when I have felt that I have been treated unfairly, or experience hurt feelings, or conversely, when I reflect on my own actions that I consider to be “less than” what I should or could have done. The challenge for me each time is to confront these thoughts and do something with them in the present, thinking toward the future instead of ruminating about the past. When I am successful, I have renewed energy that I believe comes from the creating force of the present and future – the Spirit that drives us from dwelling in death and sin to dwelling in life and grace.

We, as an Archmere community, have dealt with the feelings of loss that come with the death of someone we know and love during the past school year – alumni, parents of alumni, grandparents. We have have also had the loss of two Norberintes who served on Archmere’s faculty – Father Tom Meulemans, O.Praem., and Father Tom Hagendorf, O.Praem., with whom I worked during my time at Archmere from 1984 to 1996. Father Hagendorf was also my Freshman religion teacher.

mondaye_abbey

Mondaye Abbey

Yesterday, Ms. Leah daPonte, Mr. Tim Dougherty, Mr. Robert Nowaczyk, and myself were invited by Abbot Richard Antonucci, O.Praem., to participate in the celebration of Saint Norbert’s Feast with the Daylesford Abbey community. I shared a presentation of music and prayer from Mondaye Abbey in Normandy, France as Morning Prayer. The other faculty members also shared their thoughts and experiences after having visited five working Norbertine Abbeys, Prémontré, and other places important to the life of Norbert during the 2012 Heritage Tour offered by Saint Norbert College and Archmere.

The discussion that followed highlighted an awareness and perseverance of the members of the Norbertine communities over the centuries. Many Abbeys were suppressed under various governmental and political conflicts. Some were reconstituted with a a handful of Norbertines who had to live separately in homes and parishes. Others were physically dismantled and the properties sold. Even then, many of the local Norbertine communities, such as the one at Tongerlo in Belgium, repurchased portions of the land and rebuilt the Abbey. These were men of vision who perhaps knew that they would not see all of the community’s works achieved in their lifetimes, but they knew that those who followed them would carry on.

Over ten centuries, these communities of faith preserved a way of life, guided by the Rule of Saint Augustine and the life of Saint Norbert. The Abbeys, through all of their difficulties, advances, and losses, have maintained a constant, persevering faith. Moreover, they upheld and built upon the two greatest commandments of loving God and loving one another.

I am proud that Archmere Academy is part of that heritage. The zeal exemplified throughout the history of the international Norbertine Community is one of the core values that drives the members of the Archmere community.

In the midst of loss, we need to find the hope of the resurrection, which waits on the other side of the final minute spent in sickness, suffering, and hardship. Although this thought may be easier to write than to feel, it is important to express so that our perspective as Catholic Christians is not lost in only focusing on the present.

We welcome each new morning, because with it comes another day, and another, and another – until we will no longer have to keep time by our mornings.