Of course, I'm also preparing for the big event tonight. Got my snacks and drinks. Some Fritos and cheese and peanuts. I'm all ready for the big show: the Lady Gaga halftime concert. Of course, I have to get through two interminable quarters of football first. When I said this to my 16-year-old daughter, she said, "That's exactly what my gay friend said." I'll take that as a compliment. My daughter is not homophobic. She has lots of gay friends, and she was just stating a fact.
I'm a lucky guy. I have two kids who are open-minded and accepting of everybody. I have a beautiful wife. And Lady Gaga is singing tonight.
Today's episode of Classic Saint Marty first aired almost six years ago, when I was thinking about the important things in my life . . .
February 8, 2011: Saint Josephine Bakhita
Right now, I'm teaching Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road to my writing and literature class. It's one of my favorite books, but my students, as I anticipated, are struggling. They're struggling with McCarthy's language and style. His themes and ideas. More than one of them have said out loud during discussions, "I hate this book."
What I really think my students are struggling with is maturity. Most of them are only just out of high school a year or so. I guess I can't really expect them to feel the terror of the dying father for his young son in The Road when they can barely keep a goldfish or fern alive. They just don't have the life experience to appreciate the book. Today, I tried again to make them "get it." I had them write a journal entry about the one thing that's most important in their lives. My goal was to make them think about the difference between need and want.
One of my students wrote about his eyesight. Another wrote about her cocker spaniel. One girl wrote about her faith in God. They were all incredibly sincere and earnest. The students who didn't read their journal entries out loud looked stricken, as if I were going to ask them to strip naked and dance to "Funky Town" for everybody. I could tell that I hit pay dirt with some of them, that I pushed through the layers of Facebook and iPhone numbness to something real, raw, and alive. Then I read them what I had written:
"This novel makes me stop and evaluate all the things I regard as important or necessary on a day-to-day basis: Diet Mountain Dew, books, teaching, students, lobster pizza, car, jobs, money. However, when I reflect on the nittiest and grittiest, those things in my life that really do give me a reason to get up every morning, I would have to list just three: my son, my daughter, and my wife. I can't winnow the list any more. It's a choice I can't even contemplate. There's a terrible scene in William Styron's book Sophie's Choice where his main character, Sophie, is forced to choose which of her two children will live and which will be executed. It's a moment so brutal and agonizing that I can barely read it. If I were asked to choose just one thing I cherish most, the one thing I would rescue from destruction, I couldn't. I couldn't make a choice like Sophie makes. It's unthinkable to me. Wife? Daughter? Son? I know I'd end up like Sophie, haunted the rest of my days by the cries of the choice I didn't make."
Too many people in the world today are forced to make decisions like that in places like Sudan, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone. Life-and-death decisions. Today's saint, Josephine Bakhita, was stolen from her family in Sudan by slave traders around the year 1879. After many years and many owners, Josephine was freed. She wound up in the convent of the Canossian Daughters of Charity. She joined the order and served as "cook, gate keeper, and keeper of linens." She died on February 6, 1947. When Pope John Paul II canonized her in 2000, he referred to her as a "universal sister...[who] can reveal to us the secret of true happiness."
Josephine Bakhita--former slave, nun, servant--found happiness in the religious life, in throwing her energies into helping others. She became Christ in the lives of people who were sick, broken, cast-off. She took a life of slavery and turned it into a life of compassion and love. That was Josephine Bakhita's choice.
You see, it's all about the choices we make. That's what I wanted my students to understand today. When all the elements of my life are distilled--job, money, iPad, Kindle, car, clothes, stuffed-crust pizza, all of it boiled off--what are the oxygen and hydrogen of my daily existence? What do I need to survive?
If it's a cell phone, I may be a student.
If it's food, money, a car, I may be a janitor. A nurse. A lawyer. The President of the United States.
If it's love and compassion, I may be a husband. A father. Or a saint.
It's my choice.
This evening, I have a poem I wrote a few years ago, as I was waiting for my daughter's ballet class to finish. Appropriate for this ballet recital weekend.
Saint Marty is grateful for a little quiet this evening.
Praise for Waiting
by: Martin Achatz
I scribble these lines in my journal
As I wait for my daughter’s ballet
Class to end, her to come out of the studio,
Flushed from grand jeté, allegro, pirouette.
I treasure these moments of waiting
At the end of the day, in my car,
Radio silent, evening creeping into air
Like frost on a kitchen window, delicate
Fingers of cold and dark. This moment,
Suspended between dinner and sleep,
Seems timeless, the way pictures of Garbo
Seem timeless, black-and-white, eyes
Focused upward, as if some lover
Hovers above her, waiting to press
His lips to hers, taste her meter, rhythm,
Sonnet of skin, snowdrift body.
Words cannot, will not touch these long
Seconds, no verb or adjective coax
Onto page the pure pleasure of possibility,
Reaching out like an unwritten poem.
I close my eyes, understand why Garbo
Flickered out when she did, left the world
Waiting for one last word, one last glimpse.
A snapshot. My daughter caught mid-leap,
Waiting, as we all do, to descend.
|The only reason to watch the Super Bowl|