Monday, January 3, 2022

The 30th Anniversary of My 29th Birthday πŸŽ‰

The second day of the year has been my own personal “new-years-day” for… well… a long time; in fact, ever since I was born. It was 1963, which seems like antiquity to many people today. Indeed, so much has changed in the world at large (and in the small world of my immediate and extended family). So much has changed for me.

It’s in one way shocking for me that thirty years have passed since I noted briefly in my journal - on January 2, 1992 - that I was 29 years old. I was about to begin my last semester of graduate school as a lay student with the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception, the Dominican college on the campus of the Catholic University of America. At the time, I was regarded as quite the “budding intellectual prospect” with lots of creative ideas and a brilliant mind. The future stretched before me. It seemed so vast, so full of possibilities, such a promising realm wherein I was sure to make my mark and accomplish great things. I was 29 and I was "moving up" in my world. I still had big dreams.

Now those thirty years stretch behind me. In the material and circumstantial sense, things turned out totally different than any thing I expected (insofar as it is even possible to “expect” how one’s own life will unfold through various stages). It has not been thirty years of published academic books, articles, lecture tours, accolades, and making friends with people in high places. I have published a couple of books, a few articles, and eight years worth of monthly columns on “conversion stories” for a widely-circulated Catholic magazine. At least I have some sense that the small amount of what I have published has been worthwhile. Perhaps it is just as well that I have been hindered from unleashing too many words on the world.

Not that any of this was my main aspiration during the course of these past thirty years. In any case, other circumstances took priority: like getting married, having five children, raising them; working to solidify the foundations of a still-relatively-new Catholic liberal arts university in the Shenandoah Valley, teaching lots of classes and students, wearing different administrative hats, working too hard while neglecting my health in this beautiful, tick-infested countryside until Lyme Disease and other issues brought about a midlife physical and mental collapse that necessitated early “retirement.” There’s a book all about that (see Never Give Up: My Life and God's Mercy, Servant, 2010) and the ongoing story fills eleven years of this blog.

Thirty years. Children who were not yet born are now grown up. We are grandparents. A new rhythm is taking hold, as the house becomes emptier and quieter (except when everyone comes over, which is fine too). I hope I’m ready for whatever this new period of life brings. It may be a very brief period. Death is not unknown to cut these so-called “golden years” short. I hope this doesn’t happen, mostly because I feel that I’m still called to be with Eileen and the kids for a bit longer. Josefina is still only 15 years old. But death may come, and I can only trust in God.

If I live out another era of days, they will not be easy ones. Perhaps I may finish a few projects (more on that soon). I will ponder many things. I will pray for the younger generations. I would love to see all my kids grown and established on their vocational paths, and get to know my grandchildren. I know that grandparents can be a special presence in the lives of their grandchildren, and receive much joy from them (I saw both of these realities at work with my own parents and our kids, and I’m so grateful that they had that whole season of life - for them and for the kids too). 

Lately, the family always tease me that (given my recent “East Asian Studies”) I inevitably find a way to bring up China in every conversion. So, here I go: the Chinese (historically) saw the togetherness of “three generations” as a great blessing. There was no small insight in this observation. Chinese sages also referred to the span of a human life as “36,000 Days” … and I ran the numbers and found that to be something like 98 years. Few of them ever lived that long, so (in my ignorance) I’m going to assume that’s a symbolic number. I’m not looking to get that far. I pray that I can live well and at peace, one day at a time, for the measure of days that God wills in His infinite wisdom and goodness. Hmmm... well, I wish I were more stable in such an attitude. The fact is, I worry about dying. Of course! But I pray that I might live with trust in the Lord. I still have to keep asking Him for that trust, with hope that I will grow in trust according to His plan.

If I live the fullness of my elder years, and if my health permits, I want to go back to Rome someday with Eileen. If it’s just us, we can take our time and rest when we need it. We can see vistas again, pray at Saint Peter’s tomb, walk around, sit in the parks, eat cheese and panini and drink wine and read poetry. Maybe meet the Pope again (who knows who will be Pope by then, but perhaps they’ll have a special audience for “old people”πŸ˜‰). Maybe see old friends. We would have to pace ourselves pretty slowly (I would, at least). We haven’t been to Rome in 25 years but every inch of it is still “our city.” Three of the kids have been there since, but we threw those coins in the Trevi fountain for us. May God grant it.

In any case, I pray that I might live each day - day by day - for the glory of God’s infinite love, revealed and given through Jesus Christ whose birth we continue to celebrate.

And yes, I want to note that we finally “celebrated” the family Christmas… on the same day as my birthday.

This Christmas Season, we’ve also experienced vividly how “you never stop being a parent” even for your adult children. Agnese began feeling sick with a variety of symptoms in mid-December. She tested negative for Covid, and decided to come “home” (i.e. our home) to convalesce. But she didn’t improve, and further tests revealed possible internal organ problems. She was in the hospital for over a week, and the staff worked to stabilize symptoms and make extensive further tests. She finally came home New Years Eve, and is feeling better every day. Nevertheless she still needs to take certain medications, and doctors are still monitoring her condition and trying to understand what brought on her illness and whether it involves any systemic chronic issues. We would appreciate prayers for her health.

But she’s back home and everyone is happy about that and hopes she won’t need more hospital odysseys. Meanwhile, January 2nd was a Sunday this year, “Epiphany Sunday” in the USA. Everyone came over and we wrapped presents and opened them and had a lovely dinner together. I didn’t get a family picture. I don’t think those are going to happen at Christmastime anymore: there are too many of us and we are too big to fit in (I know that larger families get it done, but they must be more organized than we are).

I got a few “sneaky pics” - they don’t read this blog so they’ll never know, haha.πŸ˜‰ I can share a few below. What I enjoyed most was just being together with everyone. It was the best birthday gift I could have hoped for. “Three generations together” is a blessing indeed.