Thursday, February 25, 2016

An Aragon Ballroom Tutorial

 In Paradisum deducant te angeli (CCC 335).

Several years back, I took my two oldest girls to their first rock concert. At the time, Joan was a big fan of Janelle Monáe, and Meg liked Bruno Mars, so when we found out the two would be performing together in Chicago, I decided to spring for tickets. Besides, the venue was the Aragon Ballroom in Uptown, my former home – it was a cinch.

We made it to Chicago alright, and then parked at St. Thomas of Canterbury, my old parish. After a visit inside the church to show off where I’d become a Catholic a quarter century before, we walked the two blocks to the Aragon. Inside the tattered ballroom, it was festive and noisy – standing only, no seats. As the opening act, a local band, was warming up, Joan and Meg moved through the eclectic crowd closer to the stage. “We want to be up front,” they indicated – fine by me.

Then the band started playing – loud. “I think I’ll move a little further back,” I shouted to the girls. They nodded in time with the throbbing music, and I withdrew. When Monáe took the stage, I made signs to the girls that I was moving further back still, to the very edge of the crowd. And Bruno Mars? As he started his set, I removed myself as far back as I could go – to the back wall of the ballroom, behind the Miller Lite cart, next to a security guard. She must’ve seen the pain that lay behind my shrinking demeanor, for she pointed to her ears and mouthed, “Pretty loud.”

I slowly nodded, wide-eyed. “Where can I get some ear plugs?” I begged her. She smiled and pulled out a small packet from her pocket. “Here you go,” she said simply. God bless her – an angel of mercy.

As the clock inched toward midnight, my daughters and I made like Cinderella and hightailed it out of Uptown. They preferred to stay longer, but I wanted to be plenty alert for the long drive home to South Bend.

Wheeling along I-80 gave me time to reflect as the girls chatted about the evening's events. Clearly they had a good time, and that was the outing's main goal. My experience was considerably different, however, and it came down to two unanticipated object lessons:
  1. My rocking days are over. It's not like that's a surprise, least of all to my kids. Nonetheless, my Aragon-induced bafflement – the standing, the din, the unexpected foreignness of it all – overwhelmed me and made it crystal clear that I had no business attending traditional pop blast-fests any more. If I'm going to tag along with my kids to events in the future, I'll have to be more selective – i.e., stacks of amps and screaming guitars will have to give way to indie performers and much lower decibel levels, which is consistent (hopefully) with my advancing years and accumulating gravitas.
  2. Angels don't always announce. Usually, like St. Gabriel and St. Raphael, not to mention  Christmas's Heavenly Host, angels are commissioned to proclaim and "spread abroad." Apparently, like the security guard that night, they can sometimes mercifully muffle and obscure. It's not a form of deception nor avoidance, but rather a divinely appointed selectivity based on our ability to handle the fullness of whatever's going on. Revelation, that is, on a need-to-know basis.
With regards to Lesson #2: I'm recording this story here on the off-chance my security guard-savior will read it and recognize herself. If so, thanks again! If not, I sincerely hope to have the chance to reiterate my gratitude in Paradise someday...quietly.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

To a Discouraged Nursing Student

Nursing school has you overwhelmed, I know. You're questioning your choice to be here, and you're afraid that you "won't be good enough."

Hold on a minute.

It's clear that you have a compassionate heart, so I wasn't surprised to learn that you've wanted to serve others since you were little. I'm confident God will help you realize that desire – in His name, shun the doubt and discouragement when it comes up.

But the part about not being good enough? The truth is that we never will be good enough – not any one of us, nobody. That's why, for me, nursing is so intimately connected with faith, with Jesus. I can't do this job on my own power – I'm too selfish, too broken. If I nurse well – if I teach well – it's only because of grace and God's power. The only credit I can take is that I manage to stay out of his way from time to time, and let him get on with his working through me.

Hang in there. Take heart. Have courage.