Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A record of existence

Bantering back and forth in a email exchange today with my children, the youngest decried the fact that his baby book was empty, that there was no record of his existence. This is a running family joke, but I took it to heart today and answered him:

A record of existence.

You were born between two blizzards in January 1978. God gave us a breathing space to allow you to appear. I went to work that morning of January 11, thinking we still had some time before you would enter the world. When I got the call, I remember driving home in that 1974 Volkswagen bus, and having the accelerator cable stick—frozen in its long passage from the rear engine to the gas pedal up front. I was turning the corner at 82 and 21, using the side roads because I was afraid of the interstate in that weather. I threw it into neutral as the engine raced and I thought—great--my child is about to be born, and I’m about to die. Miraculously, the cable came unstuck and I worked my way home.

I was working nights and your mother was working days. One morning I woke up and found you sitting quietly on the couch in the living room. You must have been about two. Apparently you thought you were alone in house. I was sleeping and you didn’t realize I was there. I hugged you and told you not to worry because everything was alright.

We had a conversation once when you were older, in eighth grade? High school? You told me how you had been a nerd pretty much up to that point, but you made a conscious decision to change direction, and I remember how proud I was of you in that moment. You decided not to let people pick on you, but to stand up for yourself, and it worked.

High school football didn’t work out, but elementary school was fun. I remember that one assistant coach who thought I was a spy, videotaping the games for some opposing team. What a goof. All I was doing was preserving those memories for us.

Teachers remember you. That high school was never the same after you.

Who was the driving force behind the first ever John Carroll Habitat for Humanity house? Who would never tell us how much money he had accumulated for the project because…because why? You didn’t want to jinx it? That was a stunning achievement, never equaled.

How many people have you touched in your HFH trainings, your campus meetings, in all your work so far? The well of inspiration that you are for all those people seems bottomless—but be careful to take care of yourself in all this, too.

A record of existence indeed.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Post election reflection

At about nine thirty each evening I start closing things up, getting ready for bed. I’m up at a little past five a.m. each morning, so it makes sense to crawl under the covers early. Tuesday November 4, 2008 was an exception, though. I stayed up till half past midnight in order to see the speechifying that I knew would follow the election results.

It was funny to me how at precisely 11:00 p.m. they declared Obama the winner, just as the California polls closed. Kathy sat at the kitchen table like a little kid with a red crayon and a blue crayon, coloring in the states as they were called for McCain or Obama. She was the one who volunteered us to make phone calls and to canvass for the Obama campaign. She was also the one who made herself ill over the whole battle in the closing days. “I can’t stand it” she would say. “I wish the election was over already!”

I thought McCain’s speech was actually his best of the entire campaign. It was reasoned and heartfelt and conciliatory. If he had shown a little more of that and a little less maverick, it might have been a different story.

By the time Barack came out, I was too tired to listen. All I could see was Michelle Obama’s hideous dress.

What usually happens to me after an election is that while I follow the daily rounds of revelations, charges and countercharges before the big day, I rapidly lose interest and stop watching MSNBC and figure that things will work themselves out. I’m going to try to stay on top of current events this time.

When I was in maybe seventh grade and a Catholic president was in the White House, we Catholic grade school kids had memorized the names of all his cabinet members. I couldn’t tell you who is who today, though. I want to see who Obama picks and where they come from, since past is prologue.

Anyway, I know what Michelle Obama meant when she said that for the first time in her adult life, she was proud of her country. Many people jumped all over her for that remark, but you can’t deny there is a spark now in people’s eyes, standing a little straighter, smiling a little more with the knowledge that we’ve done something significant and it’s more than just “one bright shining moment.”