Grandma and Grandpa had nine kids, seven girls and two boys. I remember my dad telling me that his parents could never spend a lot of undivided attention on any one of the children. I figure that my grandparents found it an even greater challenge to spend that quality time once 35 grandchildren entered into the picture.
I remember at family gatherings as a kid, grandma was a difficult person to get to. She usually had a little one tugging at her blouse, and even littler one bear hugging her leg, and at least four other little ones standing around her waiting for that grandma hug and the opportunity tell her how they found some lizard or managed to kick the sippy cup habit, and so forth.
When you finally got your shot, Grandma seemed to block out all the external bustle and look right at you. You knew she listened to every bumbling syllable as if you were telling her the secret meaning of life. It was all about you, even if for only what felt like 12.5 seconds. She made them count. I wished I had made them count a bit more when she passed away in 2010.
My Aunt Theresa gave the Eulogy. I sat in the front pew next to some of my cousins – my fellow pall bearers. A line from my Aunt’s eulogy resonated with my deepest feelings about this hollowing loss of ours. She said, “now we all have a St. Hannah who we can pray too.” (Now as Catholics, as many of you know, we don’t pray to Saints, we ask them to pray for us, but the expression “pray to” still endures in common speech.)
I don’t think my aunt said that just to make us all feel better about the loss. I think Theresa, like me, had a real sense that Grandma Hannah was entering into heaven, and she could begin interceding for us in a powerful way.
Even though I heard sniffles from the pews behind me, and even though I experienced the new presence of a profound absence in my life, I have since experienced a real opportunity to spend more time speaking to my Grandma.
A good looking couple ey. And two of my favorite people. Dustin and Jessica are both good friends of mine from High School. Actually, Dustin and I have been friends for 20 years.
When I received this save the date, it came as no surprise. At this point, Dustin and Jessica had been dating for eight years. I was excited to attend their wedding and support one of the few couples whose weddings I actually supported (I’ve seen too many marriages go bad.)
I pinned this “Save the Date” on my cork board above my desk. I was saving the date as I returned to my desk each evening to plow through painfully abstract philosophy texts.
One morning after morning prayer, I pulled our revised seminary calendar from my mail box in the office. Dustin’s and Jessica’s wedding fell on the same date as our annual silent retreat. No worries, I thought, Father Matt will let me sneak away from the retreat for something as important as this.
But when I stopped by his office, and brought the schedule conflict up to him, he kindly but firmly said that I wouldn’t be able to attend the wedding. “The retreat is required,” he said, “and it wouldn’t be much of a retreat if you left for a wedding.”
It was then that the reality began to set in: my life was to become less and less my own.
Dustin and Jessica understood. So did I, even if at first I did so begrudgingly.
But once I began the silent retreat, I realized something important, I could be more present to my friends through prayer, and the entire world for that matter, as I walked the green courtyards and stone corridors of the Old Mission Friary in silence.
The Outback Steakhouse: There was the kitchen: A narrow, hot passageway resounding with shouts and hollers from mostly young adults, venting innumerable angst. Everyone expressed his or her frustrations openly and colorfully, that is, by peppering each sentence with profanities and sexual references.
I spent the time from Spring of 2009 through Fall of 2012 in the Catholic Seminary. I’m finding that in my conversations and remissnessions (a made up word), I keep recalling stories that took place during this time. Also, most people know little about the Catholic seminary, so I get a lot of questions. I thought it would be fun then, and maybe insightful for many, to write about the seminary in a sort of photo journal format that I learned back in a college creative writing class: Basically, I take a photo of something that I’ve held onto during this journey, and then talk about it. Okay so it’s show and tell, fine. Do check in once in a while as the series develops.
It turns out that you have to study a lot in the seminary. I found ways to distract myself. For one such distraction, I decided to organize and manage an Irish band made up of other seminarians. One of the monks, Father Pius, joined the band, and he played an Irish drum called a Bodhran (pronounced Barron or Booron depending on who you ask. I like to pronounce it “a drum”). He pretty much rocked the house with it. I had him teach me the basics of Bodhran playing. Eventually I broke down and purchased this drum. The more I practiced, the less popular I became among my neighbors in our hall.
Father Anthony forgot his stole and Holy water at mine and my roommates’ house one evening during my undergraduate years at Cal State San Marcos after blessing the house. (Father Anthony, if you’re reading, I’ve been meaning for the past three years to return it)
I spent the first year of seminary studying at the University of San Diego. One of my classmates across the hall, Brody, had a fascination for everything “Sherlock Holmes”. One day he asked me if I wanted to go with him to the smoke shop where he wanted to buy a tobacco pipe. I said sure. Of course I walked out of the shop with one as well. Just the thing to make me look like a pretentious a-hole in any social smoking situation, at least in the casual culture of San Diego.
However, when I moved on to study Theology in Mt. Angel Oregon, I discovered a much different culture. Seeing as how I was studying at a Benedictine monastery founded in the mid 1800’s, the place had a very old world feel about it. The monks, who wore big black habits, didn’t exactly sport the latest in fashion. My classmates and I were required to wear black clerics during the day, and for some reason, maybe to blend in with the surroundings, many of the guys choose to wear out-dated old world hats around and about. (I don’t recommend it.)
And surprisingly, quite a few guys smoked tobacco from old grandpa style pipes. So when I would occasionally go out to smoke with the guys, in this slightly eccentric environment, I ended up fitting right in.