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!