Strangers in the Struggle

The stained-glass window at my home parish of St. Rose of Lima in Northborough

It’s not every day that a stranger comes up to you and tells you that she loves you.

I’ve been struggling. I’ve reverted to the quiet and reserved little thing that hasn’t really shown her face for a few years. Loneliness seeps in between the phone calls and Facebook messages that dull in comparison to what it was to be in close contact to those who are so dear in my heart. And faith? That’s been weakening, too, peaking in small moments but then receding as if some kind of drought has struck it.

Last Sunday, my parish priest appealed to the congregation to take part in the four-night Lenten parish mission that was to start that same day. I had every intention of attending on Sunday but the day got away from me and I wasn’t able to make it. Monday and Tuesday brought other conflicts, but Wednesday I was finally able to make it for the closing Mass. I slid into one of the back pews and took note of all the familiar and mostly older faces that surrounded me. There is something that I really like about going to Mass on my own, especially at home – it allows me to reflect more and take in the words of the Gospel and of the priest. I should have known it would be an interesting Mass when it opened with “Here I am, Lord,” the perfect service song that always reminds me of my days at Assumption. I closed my eyes and sang the words, loud and clear, trying to recall what discipleship now means to me in this post-grad life.

The presiding priest, a visitor from a parish in Uxbridge, MA, gave a stirring homily about always seeking God and letting Him be there to hold us and take care of us. My eyes welled with tears at several moments, as so much of what he preached was exactly what I had needed to be reminded of.

But the real God moment came at the end of Mass. As the majority of people filed out of the church, I knelt back down and prayed for much of what I have recently neglected to. I could feel tears well in my eyes as I reflected on the themes of the homily and the desire to be more present in my faith.  As I absentmindedly gazed at a spot in front of me and mulled over all my feelings in a jumbled prayer to God, I felt a hand on my shoulder and a sweet voice say with so much sincerity, “We love you, Dear.”

I turned to see a very elderly woman and her husband, both fixtures of the parish who I have probably interacted with only a few times despite having spent my entire life as a member of St. Rose. I just felt a sense of shock. I smiled and chuckled a bit and thanked her, and she grabbed my hand and gave it a little squeeze and hobbled away with the support of her husband. The two had sat behind me for Mass and in the recent months, I have witnessed this towering man patiently help her in and out of the church as well as to the front of the church to receive the Eucharist as it has very clearly become increasingly different for her to move around on her own.  It’s really a touching yet sad sight to watch, and made it all the more meaningful that she turned her attention from herself, presumably away from the pain, and reached out to me, who evidently looked like I needed a reminder of love.

As her and her husband progressed past me, I turned back and finished my prayer, despite the renewed sense of tears in my eyes. It had to be a moment from God, a way for Him to remind me that no matter how discouraged and frustrated and hard I have been on myself lately, there is so much love around me, even from strangers.

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Your Friends Make Your World

Join me for a frappucino at Starbucks sometime; you’ll notice I do something strange with my straw wrappers.  After unwrapping the straw, I tie the crinkly paper wrapper into a knot and pull it until it breaks. Two of my dear friends from home taught me years ago that if the paper breaks perfectly so that the knot comes undone, then someone is thinking about you. If there is a knot in either side, well, then you are out of luck.

One of our yearly summer adventures

Now, I am not a particularly superstitious person, but I always follow this one little gesture through, although its not about whether or not someone is thinking of me (however, I will confess that I sometimes giggle at the broken knot if I’ve been thinking of someone, hoping that they are thinking of me too).  Each time the paper breaks, I feel like I am back with the three friends who always follow this trick, no matter where we are at the present moment.  In pulling that straw wrapper tight, I am transported back to when we were 16 and 17, meeting at Friendly’s for ice cream dates to stress over finals and AP exams, prom dresses and college applications. I can picture Jen’s scrunched up face as she concentrates on thinking of one of us in order to make the knot break (with minimal effectiveness), or remember the random restaurants from our yearly beach trips where all four of us have tied our straw wrappers at the same time to see who the lucky lady would be.

As the years have passed and life has grown all the more complicated,  reunions with these girls become tougher and more difficult to plan, so this single, mechanical action is like a reunion in memory, lasting just a few seconds, but bringing a small smile nonetheless.  One is currently completing an internship hundreds of miles away in Washington DC, another is seriously contemplating a move to New York City to pursue her dream writing career, and the last returned from Alabama last month from Basic Training in the Air Force and will be leaving to begin her study at medical school in less than a week, a step she has been planning go take since the days of those Friendly’s ice cream dates.

At Maura’s graduation from BU this past May.

I miss them all terribly but no matter where life takes us, I know we will always be there for each other to share joy and sorrow. I recently got a job as a teacher, a dream I have consistently pursued since I was about 15 years old.  I wanted nothing more than to call a customary Panera date with these three to tell them all in person. These inspiring and talented young women have encouraged me every step of the way, and emit sincere “awwws” when I tell them a teaching story. I can always count on them to show true interest in my passions, just as I do for them. But we couldn’t all be together to share the big news, so I settled on a phone call ( as this was too big for a simple text!).  Tiff squealed with delight when I called her as she was making her way along the 9 hour trip back home from DC, while I received an ecstatic voicemail from Jen that night after a day of training in return for the one I left her about how I couldn’t wait to tell her the news until we were able to catch each other on the phone.  I’ve known all three of these women since we were in elementary school and after these years of our friendship, I recognized this moment as the step into adulthood.  We’re all college grads now, pursuing our dreams and passions, but I know that no matter where life takes us, we will always have each other.

The next few years are sure to be a bit tumultuous as all of my friends and I settle into careers and post-grad education, but I’ve accepted it. Distance doesn’t mean the friendships are any different, even if we are unable to be there in the way we previously have been for each other through literal physical presence.  But we’re still there.

In the days since graduation, I put a magnet on the large mirror in my bedroom that once found its place on the refrigerator of my senior year apartment.  It reads as follows: “Wherever you are, it is your friends who make your world (William James).”  So whether they are interning in DC, teaching in Kansas City or Connecticut, still living life as an undergrad in Worcester, completing a year of service in New Orleans, starting grad school in Providence or Pittsburgh, laying the foundations of their careers in the Boston area, or following a dream in New York, my world will always consist of my beautiful, supportive, one-of a-kind, gift-from-God friends.