Thursday, February 14, 2013

"We Seemed To Be Two Bodies With A Single Spirit"

"In our earthly life, next to the love of parents and siblings, one of the best expressions of affection is friendship. Every day, I thank God for giving me such good friends, who are a precious guide for my life." 
-Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

Yesterday I finished Pier Giorgio’s biography with teary eyes on the metro. I knew it would end with his sudden and young death and still it caught me off guard. The story of his life- “an ordinary Christian” -is really amazing. He’s known for his compassion and charity, caring for “his poor” with all his heart and strength in God’s name. 

He was athletic, funny, handsome; respectful and humble; he pulled friendly pranks and got in fist fights, though he climbed a mountain each morning to receive the Eucharist and served the poor in secret. He’s admirable for too many reasons to start listing. It’s clear why JPII calls him a saint for the young.

Yet out of everything, two things struck me the most about him: his deep and real affection for his friends and his constant awareness of death. For me- the two are inevitably related. I find the deepest, most satisfying friendships are those rooted in the fact this life is fleeting. When I first met death, my initial responses were anger and fear. I thought it would be better to never love anyone that much again, if loss could feel like that.

It was frankly an obstacle in all of my relationships. It’s hard to get close to anyone, fearing they will die and another part of you will die again. It takes time to move past the feeling like your loved one dies each day again.

My family and my dear friends from childhood were already etched in my heart indelibly. I would love them unto death, for sure. It was everyone else. At eighteen, I felt I had no room left in my heart. As I moved to Florida alone, I knew I would have to make friends- but they would never have to know. How could they know I was a robot? It was a chance to start fresh, where I could really start over, keeping everyone around me at arm’s length. (Ha. That really worked out.)

As time went on, the numbness started to fade. Life tends to fling us forward even when we’re busy looking back. I prayed for the fear to subside, to feel again, to let myself care for others the way my heart longed to. I thought I would somehow get back to “normal.” Frankly, He had other plans for me. I felt as if the embers of my heart had turned to stone. So instead of relighting the flame, He just set my whole life on fire….burning lifelong friends deep into my heart. He sent me to people I couldn’t ignore; whose smiles were too joyful; whose laughs slowly sunk into my soul; whose passions were too strong to ever let me go.

The friendships I formed in college- either with new friends, or building on maturing friendships from home- saved my life. He’s given me people I’ve loved more than I knew was possible, and who love me in return, sometimes more than I deserve. They helped me see I was afraid of the wrong thing: death is not our enemy, but rather lacking something to die for.

Friendship….real, hard, wonderful friendship….that’s worth dying for.

Back in January, in the office of the readings, there was an excerpt from one of St. Gregory Nazianzen’s sermons about his friendship with Basil the Great.  It’s really quite moving, a link for the readings is at the bottom. Here are my favorite parts:

“Basil and I were both in Athens. We had come, like streams of a river, from the same source in our native land, had separated from each other in pursuit of learning, and were now united again as if by plan, for God so arranged it.

When, in the course of time, we acknowledged our friendship and recognized that our ambition was a life of true wisdom, we became everything to each other: we shared the same lodging, the same table, the same desires the same goal. Our love for each other grew daily warmer and deeper.

Between us there was no envy. On the contrary, we made capital out of our rivalry. Our rivalry consisted, not in seeking the first place for oneself but in yielding it to the other, for we each looked on the other’s success as his own.

We seemed to be two bodies with a single spirit.

Our single object and ambition was virtue, and a life of hope in the blessings that are to come; we wanted to withdraw from this world before we departed from it. With this end in view we ordered our lives and all our actions. We followed the guidance of God’s law and spurred each other on to virtue. If it is not too boastful to say, we found in each other a standard and rule for discerning right from wrong.

 Different men have different names, which they owe to their parents or to themselves, that is, to their own pursuits and achievements. But our great pursuit, the great name we wanted, was to be Christians, to be called Christians.”

It’s just beautiful. These words are often in my mind, for as much as I think of my friends, which is a lot. I stand constantly in awe of them- and we all appreciate the value we have found in one another- but reading Pier Giorgio’s biography let it really sit in my soul.

I have incredible friends. And if you’re reading this, you’re probably one of them.

Pier Giorgio’s satirical name for the group of friends he climbed mountains with was the “shady characters society.” It’s nice to know even saints have their favorites…and silly names for them. He said, “We believe that even when we reach the tomb, the 'shady characters' will remember each other in prayer.” Surely, his friends mourned his passing greatly. Their descriptions of his irreplaceable spirit, his "purifying joy," make that clear. Yet they knew, out of them all, he was always prepared for that day to come.  

He once said after experiencing the death of a classmate, "Since one never knows when death will come to take us away, it is wise to prepare ourselves each day as if it were our last. Therefore, from now on I am going to try to do a little something each day to prepare myself for death, so that when death finally does come I will not be caught unprepared and regret those wonderful years of youth wasted from a spiritual point of view."

With my friends, I am alive again, because they point me back to Him. When life is really hard and we question everything we believe in, everything we give our lives for, everything we die for, they say, “Hey, I know this sucks, but it's worth it. Everything will be okay.” They teach me patience, loyalty, fortitude, charity. They teach me how to pray, how to forgive, how to let go, how to love.

So thank you, my dear friends. I think you know what you mean to me. Your faces are in my mind when I wake up and my prayers when I lay down at night. This post is getting long- so next time I’ll expand on how to be a kick-ass friend like you. I could really go on for days. For now, know I’m thinking of you always.  Happy Valentine’s Day (the joke holiday before we drink with St. Patty…. Just kidding. Sorry St. Valentine- your (assumed real) martyrdom epitomizes my entire point, actually.) Long live friendship and consumer driven holidays.

*Biography: Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, An Ordinary Christian, by Maria di Lorenzo

(Toward the bottom of page: Sts. Gregory and Basil, Jan 2nd)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Shaking Mittens with Mat Kearney

Thursday I had the great privilege of seeing one of my favorite musicians, Mat Kearney, live at the Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University in DC.  The show was spectacular like I knew it would be. If you’re not familiar with Mat’s music…you need to be. Go YouTube it right now; better yet, just buy his albums outright, you’ll thank me.

I danced, sang, and cried the entire concert because I was so happy. I’m forever indebted to my friends who introduced me to this music. I like a lot of music; I love and feel personally connected to few songs. Yet in my short life, many of those songs have been Mat Kearney’s.  Like Mumford and Sons, Boston, Josh Groban- to name a few others- this is good, quality music. You can’t just listen to this music; experience it, feel it, breathe it in. Without fear of sounding batty because it’s just true- listening to music can be a legit spiritual experience when it speaks to your soul and seems to recognize your very existence.

So the concert was amazing. But my favorite part of the night was something a little better, namely, shaking hands with Mat himself on the street.

Imagine this: my Thursday had been long. The metro rides were crowded, I worked all day, my papercut hands and blistered feet were just annoying, and I was starving. Waking up that day to see Mat Kearney was my only consolation to a twitching eye from lack of sleep.

It was a few hours before the concert. I got to GW early, waiting on my mom and friend, Kelliann, to take the metro into town after work as well. I had an hour to kill, so I bundled up and started wandering, looking for a place to eat a few blocks from the concert hall. As I got off the metro, I remember thinking to myself, “Mat seems so cool and down to earth. I bet he’s wandering around the city, too, with a coffee or something, like a normal person.” I hastily shook any ideas of meeting him out of my head; but secretly, deep in my heart, I wished it. It would be so cool to say, “Your music really helps a lot of people. It helps me believe in God and in humanity. I’m really glad you’re alive, Mat Kearney, and I hope you have an awesome life.” You know… if I ever had the chance, that’s what I would say.

So I walked and walked. Took in the university, a part of town I had never seen; smiled at an old couple holding hands, exchanging a sweet little kiss as we waited to cross the street; and wandered alone for a good thirty minutes. I thought of my friends in Florida and how much I miss them. I thought about my broken heart and wondered if it would always be like this. I thought about how much God loves me and how I rarely see it because I’m such a brat.

And as I turned around to head back to the metro, a sudden and deep sadness came over me in a striking pang. The kind that hurts and takes your breath away, and the more you’re annoyed with your own weakness, the more it hurts. So many of the things I don’t understand just welled up inside me at once. I felt like a foreigner in this town that’s supposed to feel like home; I felt too cold for my heart to breathe; in some strange way, I simply felt alone.

Just then, as I fought back tears, hands shoved in my pockets, looking at the ground, I noticed a group of men approaching on the sidewalk. I looked up to see the best way to get around them…and, let’s be real, what girl doesn't look up at a group of men walking by, and suddenly, as if I were dreaming, Mat Kearney and his band appeared, in one large wave, coming straight at me.

Now, I’m a pretty confident woman. I can hardly remember a time I didn't know what to say or was too nervous to speak, but this moment, of sheer joy and surprise, hit me so hard in such contrast to my previous moment, I could barely stand.

Everything happened in about 15 seconds. They approached, I stood like a brick wall, grinning from ear to ear like a huge idiot on the sidewalk.  He was just like I thought he would be- confident, cool, normal looking. I assumed they were looking for some eats before the show.

It happened so fast that all of this is blurry. I approached, muttering something like, “Mat! Oh my gosh, I’m so excited for the show, I can’t wait to hear you guys. You’re so great, I just love you, my name is Amanda, I’m so happy.”

The poor guy was on the phone, on his way to enjoy the few precious minutes of his free time. I remember wondering if he was on the phone with his wife and just feeling so happy- I wish I could have screamed out that I love her too, and I’m so thankful she’s alive for him to love- because the songs he writes about her are so wonderful. I could feel myself freezing up, just smiling like a crazy person and trying to process such an innocent moment of pure joy. I could feel his band members looking at me, probably laughing, but I honestly didn't even care.

He was so kind, to pause a minute and shake my hand. I extended my blue fuzzy mitten to shake the hand of such a talented man. I said, “My name’s Amanda”, and he smiled. And for me that was enough.

I stepped aside, dazed, and ushered them to continue on- “You’re probably eating or something, I’m sorry, please enjoy your time before the show, I can’t wait,” I said, and he turned to wave goodbye.

Then I stood there for a whole minute, just smiling and crying, taking in the feeling that for me, felt like love.  Love for Mat Kearney, yes, but mostly for God. Mat’s music is awesome and he’s awesome- evident in his extreme kindness toward speechless fans- but I wasn't speechless because I love Mat Kearney- I was speechless because meeting him wasn't an accident. I often feel like a lucky person, when in reality I’m just very loved by God and every once in a while, when I doubt Him, His gestures are pretty grand.

I didn't say ANY of the things I wish I had said, but that’s okay. The crowd showed him the love he deserves and he must know how much his music means to people. He said at the concert that his music is his way of processing his life- how he makes sense of it all- and I laughed thinking, wow, it’s how I process a lot, too.

So Mat, if by chance you’re reading this because I’m totally tagging you on FaceBook and Twitter, thanks for being so nice to that girl on the sidewalk. I’m not some crazy groupie- but meeting you felt like seeing an old friend for the first time in a long time, and I was struck down by the wonders of this crazy life. It may have meant meeting another fan to you, but it meant a lot to me. I’m so very grateful for your work, and that you share your heart with so many. I pray your life is everything you want it to be, and for your family. My father was in the Air Force and he was gone a lot of my childhood; your life on the road must not be easy- know it is appreciated.

Your music sets the bar for what we expect out of life: friendships worth dying for; love worth fighting for; joy worth working for. Thank you. Some of my friends love your music so much, they pray for a spot next to you in Heaven so we can hear you sing forever. So keep it real, man, and don't let Hollywood take anything from you. 

(For my dream life I'm saving money to hire you for my wedding music. I will save A LOT and plan around your tour. It will be the best wedding ever, and everyone will be watching you so me and my husband can leave the reception early, thank God. You'll hear from me in 5-7 years.)

So my friends, when you think He’s not listening- He really, really is. This was the equivalent of a million roses and chocolate for a year- but hey- I’ll take it. When a man loves a woman, he gets to know her heart.

(My favorite Mat Kearney songs include: Crashing Down, Fire and Rain, Hey Mama, Ships in the Night, Here We Go, She Got the Honey, Runaway, Young Dumb and in Love. Enjoy.)