Despite everything that is happening here at home, I've been trying to put in a little time at school, seeing my efforts and projects come to fruition. I am there very early, attend morning Mass and then settle in for an hour or two of the most joyful work I've ever done.
The Mass part surprises me. A few months ago, I deliberately did not show up until Mass was either half way over, or I'd show right after. But when life started to get complicated, it called me back. It's a simple, calming way to start the day. I've connected with our staff priest, who is a brilliant preacher and a kind, understanding man. In January, he could not remember my name, but now our morning conversations are warm. I'm in the chapel before the Brothers come down, I even sort of sing. I'm not sure what I believe, but the ritual brings peace.
Part of what I help pull together, when I work, are our school Masses. This month alone we have had five of them, three during the school day and the Graduate and Grandparent Liturgies during the evening. The planning includes inviting students to altar serve or read, making programs, talking to whomever is planning the after reception and setting up the gym.
To set up the gym, 400 folding chairs are put up (I've finally learned how to unfold these chairs without getting my fingers pinched), the bleachers are pulled out and the altar area is set up. When it's done, the gym looks like this:
I love this part because the Mass that follows is large, the boys sing and I can close my eyes and recall Connor singing some of the same songs and the wonder of 800 boys quieting down to listen for a bit is a great thing.
So today, our last Mass of the month and school year, was important and I'm so glad that I was there. It was a special Mass, added when members of the Class of 1965 celebrated their 50th reunion last year. They commissioned a plaque to memorialize 5 classmates who graduated in the early 60's and went on to fight and die in Vietnam. Family and alumni from surrounding graduation years were invited, we expected about 30 guests and ended up with more than twice as many.
I spent much of the morning (post set up) escorting and directing these guests to the gym (the building is 3-4 times the size it was back then) and I learned a lot about many of them and what they remembered from their high school years*. Many of them had personal stories about their fallen classmates. A few of them had traveled far to be there today.
Before the Mass, two guests spoke. The first, who also served in Vietnam with his classmates, acknowledged the controversy of Vietnam very directly. His message for peace was eye opening for the students, they all sat up a little straighter.
The second speaker was a younger alum. He served post 9/11, three tours dismantling explosives in Iraq and was awarded the Bronze Star. He also, at 38, suffers from debilitating PTSD and anxiety. His message was that every act of service comes with a sacrifice, that what you give up is as important as what you do.
He also said that Memorial Day is not the time to thank him for his service, it is for the fallen. He has written two books about his experiences and writes as a way of dealing with what he is going through.
I spoke to him after the Mass, thanking him for his directness and honesty. A coworker was with me and she said she would pray for him. He said that he doesn't believe in prayers. It was a brutally honest and raw statement and it was heartbreaking. We continued to talk and he agreed that good thoughts for his family would not hurt. I told him that I hope he continues to write and speak about his life, that what he is going through is the real war story, one that is not taught to our children or properly understood.
I came home and ordered his books and I know that I will think of him often and hope that peace comes to him and the rest of us.
I am believing in prayer right now and I appreciate the warmth that you direct towards my family. Today a load of fear evaporated. A big part of me has been falling back into numbness, for the past month or so, but within that big crowded room this morning, I felt connected to bigger things. There is a lot of strength in that.
* One guy from the Class of 63 said their Senior Prank was to have every Senior place a wind up alarm clock in their locker, each of them set to go off at the same time. Back then, most of the classes were taught by Brothers, who all came running into the hallway. The time they picked was when the Senior Class was away at an assembly at another school.