Connecting Flights

January 6, 2016

This morning I boarded my 21st plane in the past 365 days, with only 8 hours and 40 minutes to spare: from 4:00 pm on January 6, 2015 to 7:20 am on this morning of January 6, 2016, I stepped on planes that carried me not just to stretches of the world I never imagined I would go, but also corners of my very self that I never fathomed existed. Connor thinks I’m insane for keeping track of such dates. He’s probably right. But I can’t help but to find something remarkable in this anniversary.

I’m far from the same person I was at the beginning of 2015 when I boarded a Dublin-bound-via-Toronto Air Canada flight at O’Hare. I remember feeling imperfectly at ease as I read my Kindle at the gate and then explored the terminal’s bookstore to kill some time. I sensed that that twisted feeling of easiness would soon subside to make way for anxiety and doubt, but I didn’t know exactly what I was sensing those 365 days ago. The only thing I knew for sure was that my life would change in my time abroad. The mystery remained how I might change, and how long that process would actually be (hint: it remains fluid even now).

I believed a common myth before my temporary move to Ireland that studying abroad changes you only because of the wondrous places you’ll go and things you’ll see. I discounted the tremendous trials inherently necessary to truly changing and growing. Now, as so many of my friends venture abroad this week and next, I’ve been trying to debunk that myth as delicately as possible: in no way do I want to scare anyone away, but I want my friends to understand the complexity of this journey they’re about to take in a much deeper way than I did when I truly left my home for the first time. It’s a journey that starts for real the moment you make it through the security line at the airport and continues to impact you for months beyond your return to this country. A journey that takes you to both incredible reaches of the word and scarily deep parts of your own self. Discoveries abound. Favorite new places will be claimed. Parts of your life before this trip will be left in Europe forever, others shed gradually in the months you return, and plenty retained forever. You’ll bring back new features of yourself developed necessarily as a part of your immense independence and adventure. All in all, the challenges are astounding, and the victories will take you higher than any plane can over these next few months, no matter how long it takes to learn how real those victories are.

***

At dinner tonight at Epcot Canada, Mrs. Jordan asked where I was at that exact time last year. For as much as I’d thought all week about the absurdity of being in Chicago and in the air on the same date in back-to-back years, it completely slipped my mind that I’d spent a few hours in Canada on January 6, 2015 as well—from 6:34 pm until 8:55 pm, I waited in the Toronto airport for my connecting flight. All of a sudden it hit me that when we arrived for our reservation at Le Cellier tonight, on January 6, 2016 at 8:50 pm, I found myself back in some sort of quasi-Canada—an airport then, a theme park now—for a second consecutive year at the exact same time.

I don’t know quite what this all symbolizes. But the parallels can’t be for naught, right?

I find myself constantly seeking symmetry and closure, even when I know such things are impossible. We’re told that we must grow comfortable with the discomfort of a lack of closure in our lives. Loose ends don’t tie themselves unless in irreversible knots. The silent explanation is the prevailing sentiment, whether we like it or not. But every once in a while, our worlds collide and remind us that although closure might be a bit too much to ask, we shouldn’t forget the perpetual connection between all of our experiences and relationships.

***

Anyone who has kept up with my blogs probably has caught on to the turbulence that accompanied my past 365 days, particularly while I was abroad. For the first time in my life, I was thoroughly confused by everything that came my way, in some form or another. I went from having a plan to being horrified that that plan might not be feasible to finally accepting the beauty of the uncertainty in taking life as it is given, not futilely attempting to sculpt its dripping, immense frame.

Then on the 365th day I saw that it all comes together. I don’t know how, but it does. It did today.

To all of my friends who departed earlier this week, who are reading this at the airport as they prepare to board an eight-hour flight, who leave tomorrow or in a week, I’m so thrilled that you’re about to discover depths of this world and yourselves that you never knew existed before. Even when the journey makes less sense to your mind than any foreign language does to your ears, it all comes together. Go out there and do abroad better than any of the rest of us have. You owe it to yourselves.

***

L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N. by Noah and the Whale

“We seldom know what we’re hearing when we hear something for the first time, but one thing is for certain: we hear it as we will never hear it again. We return to the moment to experience it, I suppose, but we can never really find it, only its memory, the faintest imprint of what it really was, what it meant.” – Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, page 47.

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The World Spinning.

January 1, 2016

I never believed I’d fall so in love with a book as I once did with Harry Potter. I craved that feeling of exhilaration, captivation, obsession, passion, clarity. That feeling you get when you become so lost in an endeavor that the world stops spinning around you, when you become hushed with amazement. But I figured discovering such a story would be tinged with a degree of cheating on my favorite story of all time. July 25, 2007—five days after the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows—was supposed to be the day I remembered forever as the apex of reader’s delight.

But on December 26, 2015, I finished Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, and in the six days since, its words and story have kept my mind spinning.

I’m remarkably fascinated by words and stories. They simultaneously have the delicacy to make a nation cry, the power to motivate a stadium to call its rally cry, the craft to change every mind in this perpetually spinning world. They’re the result of humanity’s unique ability for complex language, a fact that baffles me if I let myself think too deeply about it. What is religion, entertainment, or relationship without stories and the necessary words to describe them? Everybody has a story, and these stories interconnect more than we could ever believe. McCann’s prose captures this magical truth about stories indelibly, and that’s why I can’t stop obsessing over this masterpiece.

I don’t want to write too much in fear of spoilers. Yes, I know it’s unlikely that everyone will read it (and probably likely that very few at all will), but I think everyone needs to read Let the Great World Spin if possible. It’s a story full of smaller stories, all twisted together by the cable stretched across the Twin Towers by an anonymous man who walks across this tightrope to find this same sense of peace and clarity that McCann seems to find when he writes the beautiful pages that weave this often tragic, eternally hopeful collection of tales together so flawlessly into one collision point.

Quotes are the greatest reminder of the immense power of words. The words that stick with us so long beyond their original utterance or scripture and manage to continually influence our actions by nesting themselves so snuggly in our minds—such quotes invoke emotions otherwise buried too deep to find. The great trove of quotes in Let the Great World Spin is one of the main reasons I find myself so connected to this novel. From the first sentence of the book—“Those who saw him hushed”— to the bottom of its final page—“The world spins. We stumble on. It is enough.”—every word is so carefully chosen. For 349 pages, McCann shorted his readers of nothing and gifted us an incomparable collection of words and sentences capable of changing a person’s life direction. There are so many quotes from this book I would like to fill this post with, quotes I’m tempted to interrupt my own words with at random because they’re so much more powerful than anything I’ve ever written. Instead, I’ll temper myself until the end, although I’ll put more than the typical one closing quote.

I want to write so much more about this book, but I refuse to spoil it so I don’t ruin that incredible experience of finishing a story so wonderful and illuminating that it moves you to tears on some pages, laughter on others, and some marvelous combination of excitement, joy, hope, and a hint of dread that you’ll never feel this way about a book ever again, even though you know that some day you most certainly will, because the world keeps on spinning and words keep on accumulating and things never totally fall apart.

To sum up the wonder of this book, I must resort to the inadequate cop-out that my words fail to grasp McCann’s in their full and raw beauty. The details he describes are too real, creating pain too stabbing, discoveries too profound, laughter too uncontrollable. Disappointment reveals itself over and over, but never quite enough to destroy hope in something greater. Words: they’re pretty great. Let the Great World Spin mastered them; its words left me lost for more.

***

Love Yours by J. Cole

“What Corrigan wanted was a fully believable God, one you could find in the grime of the everyday. The comfort he got from the hard, cold truth—the filth, the war, the poverty,—was that life could be capable of small beauties..” – Let the Great World Spin, page 20

“The core reason for it all was beauty. Walking was a divine delight. Everything was rewritten when he was up in the air. New things were possible with the human form. It went beyond equilibrium.” – Let the Great World Spin, page 164

“Sometimes thinking back on things is a mistake arising out of pride, but I guess you live inside a moment for years, move with it and feel it grow, and it sends out roots until it touches everything in sight.” – Let the Great World Spin, page 285

“A man high in the air while a plane disappears, it seems, into the edge of the building. One small scrap of history meeting a larger one. As if the walking man were somehow anticipating what would come later. The intrusion of time and history. The collision point of stories. We wait for the explosion but it never occurs. The plane passes, the tightrope walker gets to the end of the wire. Things don’t fall apart.” – Let the Great World Spin, page 325

“Literature can remind us that not all life is already written down: there are still so many stories to be told.” – Colum McCann, Author’s Note

Words, Words, Words

December 22, 2015

I first encountered Rich Moran in early May 2010. I sat behind him in the freshman section of the bleachers of SLUH’s old gym for the annual senior award ceremony. I’d seen him and his distinctive white hair—balding yet unkempt, long on the sides and combed over the top—pacing the halls, generally with his head down and seldom smiling. But none of these passings qualified as encounters the way watching him give my classmate a demerit for a trivial thing did. The details escape me, although my memory hints that the student was laughing rather than applauding. To me, a freshman terrified of demerits and the JUG (“Justice Under God,” Jesuit for “detention”) that came from too many, this encounter primed me to react hesitantly when I saw “Moran, Rich” next to English II on my sophomore schedule.

I made this judgment before I ever knew Rich and his story. Which, as I learned in his class that year and senior year, is a crucial error in understanding anybody. For stories carry with them the power to reveal the parts of a person that they might never say explicitly.

Rich’s class redirected me to reading and writing again. In grade school, I spent my free time at home reading a new book every day or writing various stories, filled with unnecessary words but packed with detail. In middle school, though, I lost interest (mainly because, like most middle schoolers, I was a shit who thought I was too cool for everything my friends didn’t love as well). But in Rich’s class I learned to show and not to tell, to distinguish between important scenes and broad summaries. I read Macbeth and Things Fall Apart and Plainsong and A Call To Arms and The Lords of Discipline and fell back in love with an author’s ability to create an entire world with ink and imagination. Rich described Shakespeare’s ability to accurately depict the Macduff family dynamic in a mere five lines as something as wondrous as an artist’s ability to create a profile in a breeze of five paint strokes. Suddenly I had the strongest desire to become so skilled in my own writing, a desire that lives on and an accomplishment I am yet hundreds of miles from.

But the stories extend beyond the materials on the syllabus (a syllabus that made reference to Matt Holliday’s inability to field left field properly and shitty sequels to Snakes on a Plane nixed before Samuel L. Jackson could barter for another purple lightsaber). They shine most clearly in the times I interrupted the lesson to express my discontent with the Cardinals’ failure to win the division, the day Rich pulled me aside before class to tell me not to worry about the C he’d just given me on an essay about “The Last Duchess” because he could tell I was dealing with something bigger than school, the nights he visited the Prep News office and we talked for 30 minutes in the middle of the J Wing.

In Rich’s Reading and Writing Fiction class, I spilled the deepest parts of my life onto the assignments for Rich to read. In so doing he learned my story. So when he first spoke so passionately about his obsession with stories and the power they carry, I attached myself to his sentiment. Stories had always been important to me, from the mornings when I was eight years old and awoke at 5 am to read alone for two hours. But Rich’s testimony shed a brand new light on the importance of stories to life itself. We all come with a multitude of stories that have molded us. These are the stories that we share with friends we’ve just met in order to sculpt an image of ourselves for them. They’re the crux of existing friendships that share the same stories with different points of view that come together to create a new dimension. Without stories, our lives become repetitive. No substance remains; rust pervades.

***

Tonight I saw Wicked for the first time. I’ve heard the soundtrack dozens of times, and “Defying Gravity” has long been a favorite song of mine. Throughout the production, I obsessed over the power of stories and the words that makes stories possible. I couldn’t stop thinking about the magic of words and how desperately I needed to write. Write tonight and in the future (which will hopefully work out as I pray it will). When the cast performed “Defying Gravity,” I was overcome with amazement for these words that I speak of now, for the story that dives into the essential question of whether anyone is truly born wicked or if they have wickedness thrust upon them. My obsession with words reached full desperation to one day create something so powerful and moving as Wicked was tonight.

It is extremely difficult to accurately describe this feeling I felt tonight, but descriptions are the very reason that such a diverse vocabulary pervades the English language. Thus, I feel an obligation to describe this feeling as accurately as possible, and if I fail, then I have a great way to improve my writing. Here it goes.

If you’ve ever had a feeling of passion, excitement, potential, and a bit of terror, then you might know where I’m headed. It’s a combination that can come only from a certainty that you have discovered what you love and pine to excel at such an endeavor. A baseball player likely feels hit when he hits .400 for a month and reaches base more than half of the time. A teacher might stumble upon this drive when she breaks through to a struggling student and watches him work independently and successfully to present in front of the class for the first time. As a writer I feel it when, like tonight, words are organized in such a way that all I want is to create something so beautiful and moving. Something that stirs a passion to bring to life the stories that Rich so deeply loves. The simplest stories of love and friendship and betrayal and pain and even boredom that we all know so well. These are the stories that I crave to construct from nothing. They are the reason I refuse to go to bed until more words are adequate.

Words are our most inexhaustible form of magic, Dumbledore told Harry. For this reason I cherish words, especially those of the written variety, the ones that paper binds to eternity. Stories, the binding elements of our lives, would be impossible without words. Like Dumbledore said, they’re magical.

***

Today, Rich and I email nearly every day. When I visit SLUH, I visit his desk without regard for a clock. Three years after graduating, I cannot stop obsessing over words and stories. The implications of their power can only be marveled at, not quite understood. Rich taught me the true power of stories and words, and there is no way to possibly repay him in full for that gift. All I can do is continue to craft my own words on this screen and on paper, creating my own story, starring Rich Moran.

***

Defying Gravity – Wicked

“I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason, bringing something we must learn.” – Glinda – Wicked

Patch the Walls

December 11, 2015

I convinced myself all week that Jason Heyward would be in a Cardinal uniform for the next decade. Really, I prophesied that image since last November, when he came to the Cardinals to fill the hole in right field for the late Oscar Taveras.

I became infatuated when Heyward hit two doubles in his Cardinals debut against the Cubs, a 3-0 win at Wrigley Field. I turned skeptical, like many Cards fans, when he hit .217/.261/.349 (for non-baseball fans, that stat line would never warrant the $185 million contract he got from the Cubs. It probably wouldn’t warrant a $5 million contract) in April. But come May, things started to turn around. I fell in love with Heyward on May 27 during my second trip to Busch Stadium this season when he launched a solo shot over the right field wall to tie the game in the 9th inning of what became a 4-3 win against Arizona (where Shelby Miller, the pitcher the Cardinals traded to receive Heyward, will now call home). As he continued improving throughout the year to finish with a .293/.359/.439 stat line, I screamed foe the Cardinals to sign him immediately and for as much as he asked for. When the Cubs signed Ben Zobrist and dumped Starlin Castro, I pleaded with the baseball gods to push Heyward back to Busch, not toward Wrigley.

Looking at it all now, I don’t think we ever stood a chance at retaining Heyward. He allegedly turned down a larger offer from the Cardinals to join the Cubs, and while that’s my nightmare, I find it impossible to blame him. The Cardinals have a richer history and offered what was likely relatively marginally more money, and as a diehard Cards fan it kills me to say this, but the Cubs are a more desirable team in every other aspect. Damn it, it hurts to type that statement.

If I were 26 years old and about to sign a nearly $200 million contract, would I rather live in Chicago or St. Louis? Sorry to my fellow St. Louisans, but Chicago has much more to offer than St. Louis; it’s a perk of being a metropolis with a booming downtown. And, if you help bring the first World Series to Wrigley Field in its 100+ year history, you’ll be immortalized forever. Not only that, but the Cubs have one of the youngest and fun-loving clubhouses in baseball, something that is part of the fabric of Joe Maddon’s clubhouses. Oh, Joe Maddon. Him, too. No offense to Mike Matheny, but there’s no better manager in baseball. The hard, shitty truth is that the Cubs are just more desirable now than the Cardinals.

I hate everything about that idea. The Cubs have always been the cute, harmless little brother in this rivalry. Then, all of a sudden, puberty hit them like a Kyle Schwarber home run onto their scoreboard and they became so much hotter than their older brother Cardinals. Everything the Cardinals had to work for since 2000 started gravitating naturally toward the Cubs. Yes, they put in great work to develop Schwarber, Bryant, Russell, Soler, and others, but their organic allure is a great asset in free agency, a trait the Cardinals lost as soon as we became the know-it-all braggart, unsatisfied with 16 years (and still counting) of National League dominance.

I saw a screen cap on Twitter today from The Revenge of the Sith of Obi-Wan looking at Anakin and shouting, “You were the chosen one! It was said that you would destroy the sith, not join them!” The tweet came from a Cardinals fan in reference to Heyward as Anakin and the Cubs as the sith. And while it’s so tempting to view today in that light, in truth, the Cardinals have been the Evil Empire for some time now. To the rest of the world, Jason Heyward is trying doing what Anakin never could: abandon and destroy the sith. I highly doubt that there is any actual ill will between Heyward and the Cardinals, but the metaphor stands: the Cardinals are universally disliked, and the prospect of a fresh team, a fun team, a rival team infiltrating them to bring them down is a wonderful story. A tragic story for myself, but a wonderful one nonetheless.

The main damage done today was not Heyward’s departure up I-55. Rather, it was the confirmation that from an unbiased view, the Cubs are legitimately more appealing to play for than the Cardinals. Now, the Cardinals must make some major moves to fend off the fall of a dynasty. I seriously wonder whether we need a brand new approach in free agency as we look toward Alex Gordon, or maybe Yoenis Cespedes, or any of the other free agents left to fill this enormous gap that Heyward could only plug for a year. Every once in a while, a castle’s walls start to crumble. At first, temporary fixes provide adequate patchwork, but once they wear down or jumps ship, the castle is left a bit weaker than before. Especially when your greatest enemy, thirsty for the glory you’ve sustained, thieves that temporary fix. The Cardinals dynasty of the 2000s isn’t over, but I wonder whether it’s time to finally nail down a permanent renovation to maintain the NL Central throne.

***

“NOOOO! GOD! No, God, please no! No! No! NOOO!” – Michael Scott – The Office Season 5, Episode 8: Frame Toby

 

Time’s Up. Go Play.

December 8, 2015

All of a sudden, this semester has one week of finals remaining. Of course, it’s the same week as the MLB winter meetings, and that means my six hours spent at the library today really consisted of two hours of studying and four hours of sifting through rumors about Jason Heyward. Pretty much, if the Cubs nab Heyward from the Cardinals, I won’t be able to function for about a week. My finals won’t go ideally and the Cardinals will have chosen to regress and conceded the division to the Cubs for the next five years. But this stress isn’t my main concern right now (although I’ll certainly have plenty of words here soon no matter where Heyward signs). Nor are my finals.

In our final class of Marriage and Christian Vocation yesterday, Dr. Finucane presented his “final word” on the key to a successful marriage: Play. It’s a concept that seems so simple, yet as we discussed the nature of play, I realized how much harder it becomes to play for most of us as we age. What do kids need to play, Dr. Finucane asked. Our responses harkened back to my days in the Gauvains’ basement building forts every summer day out of blankets and benches, the late nights at Bently’s house when the 3 B’s would stay up until sunrise writing stories involving nearly all of our 45 classmates at Clark Elementary, soccer and baseball tournaments and their accompanying hotel hijinks, chasing Webster Groves’s mythical Wolfbane around my neighborhood with Spencer. More than material objects, kids simply need a good imagination to play and, often, a friend or a few to help accompany their adventure. Rugrats earned its classic status and syndication at 2 am on Nickelodeon because it captured this loose structure with such powerful nostalgia and grace; Nostalgia because we can’t go back to the age and adventures of Tommy, Chuckie, Phil, and Lil. Grace because it so effectively blended reality with the gang’s imaginations.

At some point, our imaginations unfortunately trail off in favor of reality. Dark basements are no longer caves, and open pastures are no longer all The Field of Dreams. The lava in our homes cools to become a boring and stained carpet, and tall fences are no longer automatically called “The Green Monster” to make an impromptu home run derby feel more authentic. Tommy Pickle accepts that he’s at a Renaissance Fair with his grandfather, not the son of a European knight centuries ago.

Alongside imagination, maybe even in conjunction with it, our idea of what to do with free time becomes increasingly impaired. Well, at least, that’s how it’s become for me.

In my first week back home from Ireland, I reflected with Jack McAtee on the part of studying abroad that no one tells you about: copious, even uncomfortable, amounts of free time. Coming from somewhere like SLU where it’s difficult NOT to be busy 16 hours a day, a scenario in which my only obligation was eight hours of class for 12 of the 18 weeks I was there drove me so far out of my comfort zone. I’m the kind of person who thrives on pressure, deadlines, and being perpetually busy. When time is given freely to me, I regrettably spend it far less productively than when it is restricted.

My junior-year English teacher at SLUH and Prep News moderator Steve Missey supposed that kids are losing their ability to be bored. Three years ago, I scoffed at him. Being bored was the worst part of childhood, I countered. What kind of kid would prefer a puzzle to an iPad? Now, though, having experienced true boredom intermittently over the past year, I understand his argument. Boredom inevitably comes in waves, both throughout the day and over the course of one’s life. When we become overwhelmed with boredom or mindlessly kill time instead of working to embrace it, our failure to deal with being bored becomes clearer. No one likes being bored, but there’s something admirable about facing boredom and being well equipped to counter that boredom by creating something productive with free time. Managing structured time is nothing compared to organizing unstructured time and creating something worthwhile with it.

Which brings me back to children and play. As a young kid, I never had enough unstructured time. I asked 20 times an evening for one extra throw from my dad when we played catch before dinner. I practiced Edgar Renteria’s batting stance until I could replicate perfectly his slight crouch and quick bat twirl, a product of his wrists rolling smoothly as they rested near his back ear, long beyond the time my mom ever set aside and having no regard for her patience. I ran around and cuddled with my dog Buddy on Saturday mornings from the time I awoke at 6 am until my dad emerged from his room at 8 am to take Paul and me to our weekly Saturday morning breakfast. I always needed more time.

Now, I oddly find myself anxious about the three-plus weeks of Christmas break looming. This phenomenon began my freshman year at SLU when I was watching How I Met Your Mother on my bed three days into Christmas break and wanted nothing more than to be back at school. My imagination is unfortunately not as childish as it once was, and opportunities for new experiences are not always easy to come by, especially in St. Louis, and even more so in the winter. In Europe I could travel to a new country on a whim; here, options are far more limited. When time is unlimited, those restrictions become a problem. Ideally I could regain that imagination children posses so much more readily than adults—I still remember John Webb challenging all of us on the Prep News to make the paper more exciting by channeling our inner kindergartener because he’d read a study suggesting that five-year-olds have significantly more active and creative imaginations than eighteen-year-olds. But if imagination is more fleeting, then I at least wish I had more opportunities to travel and explore in my free time. It helps that I’ll be going to Sam’s lake house in Perryville, picking up Devin and visiting friends in Chicago with Connor, and spending a week at Disney World before break ends, but I’m ready to again go places I’ve never been. I want to see the American West, the Canadian Rockies, the Central American jungles.

These wishes will hopefully come true in the future, especially as I prioritize exploring the United States outside of the Midwest in the coming years. Hell, maybe such experiences might even enhance my imagination and creativity. But for now, I have one week left at SLU this semester before break comes.

I don’t know where this semester went; each subsequent one at SLU goes faster than the last. Last week I wondered where October and November had gone, feeling as if September was the last time I’d stopped to gather myself. But while abroad, in those moments that crept along and left me longing to escape my boredom and anxiety, I learned that although I want to prolong time to make the good things last, frozen time is toxic. Instead, it’s better to look down at your phone while out with friends and expect to see 12:32 am on your screen but learn that it’s somehow 2:23 am and you won’t be going to bed for another hour and a half. Living so fully in October and November that your mind blends 61 days into six is far better than waiting in bed for break to end in three weeks.

This break, my goal is to avoid being stagnant, to reconnect with the rugrat somewhere inside me. Yes, I’d so prefer that my friends and I all stay at SLUH for those 27 days of break. But as long as that’s no option, I owe both everyone I’ve ever complained to about being bored and myself to actually do something to see new places and do new things. Time over break can drag if I make it, or it can fly by to be a new kind of stretch away from SLU. Dr. Finucane applied play to a successful marriage, but I think that it can be applied so much more broadly to encompass our overall attitudes. When we play, we might finally free ourselves to enjoy a bit more the free time that we begged for as children. Now that we’ve received it, it’s time to play again.

***

“Circles” by Machineheart feat. Vanic

#SignJasonHeyward

“I mark the hours, every one. Nor have I yet outrun the sun. My use and value, unto you, Are gauged by what you have to do.” – JK Rowling (inscription on Hermione’s time-turner from the Prisoner of Azkaban)

(Seriously, sign Jason Heyward, Cardinals)

Read the Fifth

November 25, 2015

Three years ago this week I went on SLUH’s 57th Kairos with around 50 of my classmates. I’d heard almost exclusively positive reviews on the four-day retreat, but no one ever specified why. Ten months prior, I had one of the most formative experiences of my life on the Junior White House retreat. As l told Clark every Thursday night in the Prep News office in the month between his Kairos experience and mine, no way could Kairos pass up White House for me.

On the second night, I found out that I was wrong. (If you haven’t gone on Kairos but plan to, stop reading immediately.)

Letters are extremely powerful tools of communication. I’ve mentioned in previous posts are powerful language is, particularly carefully chosen words. But letters today are rare. Instead we rely on rapid text messages that become lost among thousands upon thousands of other short texts or on Snapchats that disappear forever in a matter of seconds. I actually really appreciate these types of media, but it’s disappointing nonetheless that they’ve driven letters as endangered as pandas. The torn edges and stained pages of handwritten letters have been replaced by hearts, stars, and fire emojis on Snapchat. The half-cursive or all-caps or slightly slanted or narrow or bubbly or d’s-that-flow-into-e’s-that-flow-into-l’s of each person’s distinct handwriting are now standardized as Arial on our phone screens.

(Seriously. Let this part of the retreat be a surprise and then after you return read this post. Okay. Good.)

The second night of Kairos is letter night. As I said, the second night made me realize that Kairos would be even more influential and perhaps more important than White House. The majority of the letters I’ve collected over the years came from that one night on Kairos (a few also come from my time abroad last semester). That night was three years ago, the week of Thanksgiving 2012. Tonight I reread them for the second time in those three years. I’ve lost touch with some of the scribes, but even those people generally had a major impact on me. Others I catch up with every few months. The rest remain close to me. From them all I gleaned something amazing in their love and friendship. I’d love to share each of those interactions, but one of the wonderful things about letters is how personal they are, and as such, I’ll instead keep those memories and words to myself. Anyone with their own stash of letters will understand.

Not all of the letters are quality; the cookie-cutter templates some sent to all of the retreatants were impersonal, and some felt like strange platforms for quasi-agendas. Regardless, outside of those occasionally dull letters, the ones that left an impact way back when still have an influence when I read them now, despite the many experiences I’ve had since then that have changed my in ways both slight and significant (how strange it is that the time difference between Kairos and today is the same as that between freshman and senior year—I changed immensely in those three years).

At some point along the way I’ll revisit all the letters I’ve received again. When that day comes, I know I’ll have changed, but I’m not sure exactly how. Reading those notes will likely remind me how I felt each time I read them previously, and then I should have a good base to reflect on everything. But I really just hope that letters don’t go extinct, lest we should lose a most valuable type of personal contact.

***

“This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

 “Roses” by The Chainsmokers

Catatonic Loss

October 13, 2015

Some people say that sports don’t mean anything in the long run. They’re merely a distraction from reality, a juvenile world of black and white. I don’t buy that claim.

My best friendship began with a Cardinals game in 7th grade. Connor and I still go to around 20 games a year together, but our friendship is so much deeper than the game we’ve rooted it in, primarily (and perhaps paradoxically) because of that very game. We trust each other more than just about anyone else in the world, although we may have never gotten to know each other well if not for the St. Louis Cardinals.

I’ve maintained a strong friendship with my favorite and best teacher from SLUH, Rich Moran, through a constant string of emails about the Cardinals. All year long, we bitch about the construction of the lineup and roster, potential free agent signings, trade deadline rumors, the hottest prospects, and, every once in a while, we cheer. But from time to time, one of us will email the other and call the subject, “non-baseball stuff.” At no other time do we waste our time writing a subject. We’ve used it for the death of my grandmother, the death of Rich’s mother, the birth of Rich’s granddaughters, various stories I’ve started (and never finished), and articles from the New Yorker or New York Times. Our friendship goes beyond baseball, but there’s a chance that without the Cardinals, one of my last interactions with Rich would have been at my high school graduation.

At Clark Elementary School, Bently, Brendan, and I were best friends. We called ourselves “The Three B’s.” Frequently we had “B’s Nights Out,” sleepovers with just the three of us. Always we watched the MV3 Cardinals together. Jimmy Edmonds was our guy (although Brendan also loved Edgar Renteria). We watched the first Cardinals dynasty of our lives as they dominated the NL Central from 2004-2006. In 2008, Brendan moved to Orlando, and it’s been since his visit back to St. Louis freshman year that the three of us last hung out together (we’ve all hung out in pairs; in fact, I got dinner with Brendan last weekend before his soccer game). But the communication that still holds us together every few months almost always has something to do with the Cardinals. “I miss when the Cardinals used to hit home runs,” Brendan texted me in July. Me too, bud. I also miss when we didn’t allow home runs, but now they’re allowing them to anyone who walks to the plate and my heart feels like Steve Bartman’s in 2003.

When I went abroad, I didn’t expect to feel as anxious and upset as I did at some points in my transition. But when those times hit hardest, I turned to the Cardinals. I watched the entirety of Games 6 and 7 of the 2011 World Series. I watched highlight reels of my favorite players. I bought an MLB.TV subscription so I could stay up until 4 or 5 am watching the Cardinals in April. Even when I spent Opening Night at a hostel in Bologna the night of Easter, I set an alarm for 2:05 am to watch the Cardinals beat the Cubs in the newly renovated Wrigley Field.

Sports shouldn’t consume a person’s life, but to discount their value is to discredit a powerful force. Some call sports an escape from reality, but they’re so much more than that. In their rawest form, they’re a part of so many identities. Acting in the same way as music, books, TV shows, or any other form of entertainment, sports are an integral part of our culture, not a trivial escape. I know I’m not the only person to have been so heavily impacted by the Cardinals or another hometown team.

That’s why this loss tonight hurts so badly. We turn to sports when we most need them, not because they’re an escape, but because they shape so many parts of our lives—well, at least if you’re a diehard, not a bandwagoner. I could find solace in the fact that the Cardinals have been bad a total of 4 years since I was born, and we’ve been the best team in the MLB over the past 15 years by a wide margin. But 107 years without a World Series for the Cubs doesn’t mean as much when they’re 12 months closer to their next World Series than the Cardinals. I’m thrilled for some of my friends who are great Cubs fans and finally get some excitement. But I’d rather give my best friend the girl of my dreams than deal with this loss for the next few weeks. 4 years in a row now, we’ve dropped 3 straight poorly played games to sputter out of the playoffs. It’s heartbreaking.

But I feel like Jim Halpert when Pam didn’t love him. Like Harry Potter when Voldemort returned.

I’ll never stop loving the Cardinals. Wainwright is my all-time favorite player, and that will never change. Heyward needs to be the face of the franchise for the next 10 years. The MV3 of Pujols, Edmonds, and Rolen was even better than the incredible offense the Cubs just rolled out against us. But damn it this hurts, and it’s not because sports don’t mean anything.

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“Little Talks” – Of Monsters and Men https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghb6eDopW8I

“Never, ever, ever give up.” – Michael Scott