Guiding Force – Father (Pt. 2)

My father.  A good man.
I hope he’s proud of what he sees in me.  The best in me – after all – comes from my both my parents, and I must attribute that quieter, more contemplative side I have, to my father.

What could I possibly say on a day like this, celebrating the man who raised me from when I was but a wee babby?  It’s a curious question, and one I’m just going to have to go for, seeing where thoughts take me.  Consider this my stream of consciousness henceforth.

I remember clambering atop this ropes course, back in 2012, looking down from the great heights, swinging precariously between two horizontal beams: a section of the giant’s ladder at Camp Friedlander.  Vaguely I heard my dad encouraging me, praising the speed with which I had achieved the last gap, and telling me to continue that same swiftness to gain the peak.  Well, that kept me invigorated, even when my legs felt leaden as I tried to lift them, straddle the beam, and spin upward.

I liken that to the everyday encouragement I receive from him, if regarding less physically taxing actions.  He’s seen me through the best of times, and the worst of times.  I remember not even a year ago, feeling discouraged during my driving practice sessions, and how he would wave aside the many mistakes I made (which could have injured either of us, truth be told), simply telling me to continue until I got it.  He has a very forward looking mentality, that, while not confined to the future, keeps that endgame in mind.

My Eagle Scout, my Freedom Award, my Religious Emblem, my Black Belt, my joining the P&G Resident Scholar Program, my going to Cincinnati State, my being a part of St. Gertrude HSYM.  With many “my’s”, sometimes I forget the source, the man who pushed me on towards them and kept me moving to achieve all these different life’s adventures.
Everything that he has done is truly for my embetterment, and my debt of gratitude to him is greater than I could possibly imagine.

I remember this one other specific time where we had perhaps the most difficult heart to heart ever (and yeah, my eyes are kind of tearing up as I remember it), and as we talked, there was that ever present fear that he would explode at me, but instead he just listened, and when I had finished, he spoke, showing great compassion, mercy, all things loving unto me.  I felt unworthy of it, that’s for sure, but he was there for me during that trial.  His contribution to that healing process was instrumental, and without him, I doubt I could have made it.

There are plenty of hurts and joys I talk with him about now, but that really was the catalyst, the beginning.  From great pain came a chance for greater closeness.  I always felt more like a stranger to my father before that point, and now I get to look back and realize how much changed on that dark night.

He was there for me from the beginning, and without him, the man I am today could never be.  I may not think myself a good man on most occasions, but whatever good virtues there are in me came from him and my mother, which obviously were gifted them by God Himself.

I fear a lot of times that I miss a lot of opportunities with him, either by exhaustion that puts me to sleep in the car while he’s driving, sacrificing that extra sleep so that I can get to school or work rested enough to make it through the day; the times I’m just sitting, frozen in front of my computer screen, my attention occupied by some cool new trailer or tv show; or just when I’m off doing my own thing in college or wherever.

I never meant for this to turn out so somber, but really, it is a grim reality that one day I will have to face everything without my father, the man who first taught me what it even meant to be a man; the one who taught me a respect for others, especially women; the man who taught me to love the outdoors, the thrill of adventure; the man who taught me to cherish every moment, every opportunity that comes my way, keeping those doors open and standing ready; the man who taught me to lead by example by his example; the man who has prepared and still is preparing me to fulfill my purpose: live life, and live it abundantly.

Thanks, Dad.  And Happy Father’s Day.

-M

Wholehearted Dancing

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve written more based on these funny little things called memories than just thoughts pulled out of my head, so this is a bit of a novelty.

Two things this past week (and when I say past, I mean when I started this):
– An ordination
– A swing dance

Looking at that, you might wonder to yourself how these things are connected, but to my mad mind, they are.  Or, perhaps life is just that way, with its multiple, varied, seemingly random connections.

However, to start is going to require a bit of backstory.  Gotta love backstories, they usually detail how villains came to be or how your favorite hero got that new name they have now, or all sorts of other things.

Some weeks ago, I was invited to go to the ordination by our vocations director, Father Schmitmeyer (gee, I hope I spelled his name right).  Not only that, but I was invited to sit with the current seminarians.  How could I possibly turn such an offer down?

Cut to the event on the 20th of May 2017 Anno Domini, and I find myself walking through the great exterior doors of the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Chains in downtown Cincinnati.  I had been there many times before, but that day, there was an extra… awesomeness to it.  The cathedral was already full, the choir was practicing, and I was looking for those that I would sit with.

You must understand, I am a rather short fellow, so even when the majority of the congregation is sitting, I can’t easily crane my neck to find certain people or groups.  Now, Father Schmitmeyer, he’s a tall priest, and picking him out of a crowd is usually a piece of cake, but of course, he was nowhere to be seen.  Panicking slightly, like you do when time is ticking away before the Mass begins, I hurried up the right aisle, then back down, trying to be inconspicuous – which is hard to do when you’re the only one walking – and then up the left aisle after a brief pause for fresh air.

I saw my friend Nick, talked with him briefly, asked where Father was, and then suddenly I happened upon my fellow Aspirants.  No, not Aspirins, as I thought, but Aspirants, people who aspire to – you know what, you get it.  If not, Google it.

I took the second row, being keen to see the procession up close.  My friends Ian and Jeff, fellow Aspirants (and one of them already a confirmed future seminarian), arrived, and well, there went my aisle seat temporarily.  They’re both pretty tall compared to me, just like the majority of the population, so I asked whether I could switch seats, and lo and behold, I got the aisle seat again.  My thanks, Jeff.

Casting my gaze around, I noticed several people who got me smiling (well, more widely than one can smile on such a momentous day):  St. Gertrude friends and the seminarians!  I’ll detail them later, seeing as I saw the majority following Communion.

Ah, but the Mass.  One of my all-time favorites, up there with the Chrism Mass, the Easter Vigil, you get the picture.  The thing is, comparing them can’t really be done.  They’re all brilliant, all in their own different ways.  Each displays a different facet of the Church, a uniquely beautiful part as varied as the people that make up the Church.

I was blessed to receive the Eucharist from one of the new priests, Father Alex, and when I returned to my seat, I saw old friends.  Molly, Mr. Bursa, Mr. Dorsey, Father Paul, Father Tom, Father Muhlenkamp, Maria, Abigail, and others.

How to describe it?  The priests smiling widely at the applause from the congregation, lying prostrate before the altar, the first blessing received from each later on in the undercroft, it was all magnificent.  I felt so proud, and also rather… I don’t know, wistful?  Nostalgic?  Those aren’t the right words.  But something was happening that afternoon, and it’s going to take more processing to find out what it was.  Perhaps a number of returns for future ordinations will explain.

Still, while I won’t forget what took place for the priests, there was one thing for me.  Mr. Dorsey happened upon me during the reception, and we talked briefly.  In that talk however, I told him what I intended to do with my future, where I thought I was called to go.  Has anyone ever told you that they’d pray for you?  It might sound silly at times, I know I think so on occasion, because I just feel weird afterward, but this instance was different.  It just… helps to know one isn’t forgotten, and this was only further heightened when the newly ordained Father Alexander said he remembered me from Saint Gertrude!  I confess I felt rather stunned, and was obviously very pleased about it.

Now, I’m going to leave that for a bit, and fast forward five days later.

It was nighttime, a little past 8:30, and my brother, friend, and I were walking into a small, quaint little structure.  We climbed the three flights of stairs, trying to be as quiet as possible.  Above, voices could be heard, and we emerged into a dance lesson already underway.

We joined in with some alacrity, and found ourselves setting foot into the semi-madness known as the Shim Sham.  While I managed to see and imitate about 80% of the dance, making those steps my own left much to be desired.  Ah well, I shall return to it with a good will.  It was in those moments where my mind was focused and serious about it that I was able to keep up best.  You might say that that goes against the whole point of dancing.  I would reply, “My good sir/madam, dancing is a very serious thing!”

Which brings me to the next part of the night.  After the lesson, the actual dance started, and wow, I actually recognized people outside of my group.  An old Chick-Fil-A coworker, a seminarian, another parishioner, etc.  I danced with many of my friends that night, and I will say it went… interestingly.  Look, I don’t usually mean to do this, but I analyze how my partner and I dance together.  Not just the basic, “oh, are we compatible at this sort of thing?” but the style presented by the duo formed.

I danced with a total of… *mentally counts* five different girls?  That sounds about right, seeing as I danced with our entire crew.  Yes.  Five.  Each one had their own unique quality of dancing, and I found myself doing different moves or conversing differently with each one.

Now, you must understand, when I dance, I have a bad habit of constantly apologizing for not really having a repertoire of moves.  The only time I won’t apologize is when I’m too busy spinning the girl through a series which requires my absolute focus.  No room for messing up, no room for regrets.

That is my wholehearted dancing, when I am fully integrated into the moves, too busy to notice or be distracted by other factors.  When I really enter into something, I don’t do it by halves.  I have an all or nothing head, and this sort of thing has translated across all aspects of my life.

But… of the actual dancing, it was rather… amusing to note how my friends held themselves during their dances, or reacted.  Some were more forceful in their spins, others anticipated my next motion (correctly, for the majority), others were more tentative in the way they gripped my hand and spun, and still others nervously placed their hand on my shoulder like I might burn them at any moment!  Five friends, five styles, each one uniquely brilliant, and then of course, my usual preoccupation with my state in life came to the fore.

As your typical young human fellow, I wonder how it’s all supposed to go.  Dancing started becoming one of those lenses through which I beheld life (I find new ones every so quite often), and so my mind began to beg the question, “How’ll I find that right partner?  That one who will take my hand without hesitation, realize and accept that I’m not the best dancer, and just sort of go for it, wholeheartedly?  How am I going to dance and act such that they look and are the best, at least given my level of capability?”
Odd terms on which to think, but I remain a tiny bit hopeful that I’ll find that right partner if they’re out there.

So I called this wholehearted dancing, talking about the actual dancing, kinda sorta the wholehearted part, and I also had an ordination part.  That last one seems misplaced, possibly, unless you’ve already seen the thread I’m going with.

Wholehearted.  There’s that word.  This utter devotion to something.  Given unto it.  When we speak of the heart in most classical terms, it’s in the context of love or death (though, in a lot of cases, the two go hand in hand).  So these men, these brave young people, they have chosen a life of service to the Church.  At the ordination, they promised to die to themselves and live for others, for their flock.  A beautiful vow, an undoubtedly difficult commitment.  Their test is one of both death and love, a love modeled after Christ’s, by which He chose the Cross.

I can only hope to exemplify something so profound, for I am a little soul, as Saint Therese says we should view ourselves; for we are in truth, quite small compared to the infinite that is God.  So my small view of this world of mine, this little gift I can make of myself must thus be an entirety.  While it cannot measure up in any way, if we seek to be one with Christ, then we must do as He did, and give freely, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully.  Such love is difficult to attain, and man has not the ability to do it alone.  Thus I seek companionship, of a sort that will be of mutual benefit.  After all, one of my fears is that I will tear others down on their way to Him, and sometimes the opposite.

And so I find it difficult to find that balance, between the risk of closeness and vulnerability, and a distancing of self, to avoid being that trial.  Still the question returns again and again, how can I be wholehearted if I am always holding myself back from one path or another?  My older sister might say that I am what I’m supposed to be here and now, and not to live for some future version of myself, but I confess that it’s rather difficult to do that.  I am very much future oriented, perhaps so much so that more often than not I forget to appreciate what is happening now.

Oh the eternal struggle, jumping from one blurring moment to the next, waiting for some sort of fulfillment that will only come with the end of days.  I must say, it’s rather frustrating that emotion has had more of a part in my life in recent days than reason.  I wish to temper myself, and break free of the childish impulses to which I am prone.  They tell me to grow up, and I would like to, but I’d also like to do it properly.  I seek some measure of purpose, some measure of what I must become.  I am man, both body and soul, the head and the heart, and I seek full unity between them.

So right here and now I’ll dance, perhaps you’ll do the same, and if life is to be compared, we must do more than just the motions, putting all that we are into each step, if it is to become that masterpiece that God desires for us.

-M