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.”

 

 

The Challenge of Embracing That Which We Cannot Change

Have the life you want by being present to the life you have.

Mark Nepo, spiritual writer/poet


lily_of_the_valley

Convallaria majalis.

Lily of the Valley, a delicate flower that blooms in the spring (late April and early May) is a sweetly-scented and highly poisonous plant native throughout the Northern Hemisphere. The flower was a favorite of my wife’s Aunt Rose, who, at the age of 101, passed away in the early morning hours of the Wednesday of Holy Week.

Aunt Rose came to live with us after her 99th birthday, when we suggested that she should no longer live alone in her city row-home (we now call them townhouses). Never married, independent, and an accomplished nurse-anesthetist, she had definite opinions and ideas, including her own funeral arrangements. She wrote that she wanted no flowers except for Lily of the Valley, but only if it was in season. We happen to have two beds of the flower in our backyard, but it had not blossomed by the time of her funeral on Easter Monday.

Instead, I found fresh Lily of the Valley that could be ordered online, but each stem cost about ten dollars. Aunt Rose, a practical and frugal woman, would not have approved that expense! So we thought that silk Lily of the Valley mixed with Canadian white freesia, which is very fragrant, would make an appropriate bouquet for the funeral. And that is what we did. Yesterday, when I arrived home from church, I saw the first blooms of Lily of the Vally in our backyard – one week too late.

our_ladys_tears

Known as “Our Lady’s tears,” the droplets of Lily of the Valley blossoms symbolize the tears of the Virgin Mary at the crucifixion of Jesus. In addition, the flower is often used in traditional bridal bouquets. I am not sure why Lily of the Valley was Aunt Rose’s favorite flower. Was it the sweet fragrance, the delicate blossoms, or perhaps the symbolism? The simplicity of the flower may have been the overall appeal. In any event, the flower was one week too late!

How many times in our lives have our personal calendars been upset by circumstances beyond our control? And often, we try to go to the extreme to make what we want – what we had originally planned, happen. In her own practical and simple way, Aunt Rose told us what she wanted, and absolutely what she did not want, cautioning us countless times not to deviate from her simple arrangements. Yet, in the emotion of the moment, we wanted to “honor” her wishes by importing a flower out of season at an elaborate expense. Thankfully, we paused and reflected on what she would have wanted, realizing that it was ok.

Sometimes I wonder if, in this culture of constant improvement, of exceeding previous goals, of going “above and beyond,” and breaking records, we have not compromised our sense of acceptance of those things that we cannot change. It often becomes difficult for us to not get what we want.

At this time of the year, our seniors have already received their college acceptances, rejections and wait-lists. Our juniors are working hard to maintain their GPA’s, elevate their ACT/SAT scores, and build their essays for the college admissions process ahead. Our freshman and sophomores have their own challenges too. And at some point, while we “push the envelope” of our capabilities, we have to acknowledge that we have done all that we can do, and accept that which we cannot change.

It is not defeat; it is accepting the course of events and working with them. And I believe that these moments of disappointment or frustration when our plans do not materialize as we had anticipated, are opportunities for teaching and reflection – a time to let go and embrace the challenge.

All of our students at Archmere are wonderful creations of God, each with unique talents and gifts. As the 2013-14 academic year draws to a close in a few weeks, and students assess their individual experiences, I hope that they celebrate successes. Most importantly, I hope they can acknowledge their failures and recognize what could and could not be helped.

As much as I wanted fresh Lily of the Valley for Aunt Rose’s funeral, it just was not practical. And she would have agreed. Instead, we will enjoy the fragrance of the cut blossoms in our home this week, and we will surely bring a bouquet to her resting place in remembrance.

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.