As I posted previously, the week before last Jen and I, and four of our kids (8M was a camper; 4M, 5M and 6F were all on staff in one capacity or another), were gone off to summer camp. We had a wonderful time, full of sunshine, water, trees, good friends, and even God.
On Friday of the camp week (the last full day at camp; Saturday is 'Going Home' day, full of songs like 'Country Roads' and 'Sloop John B'), I was playing softball in the afternoon with a typical mix of campers and staff (and seriously - there are few things in life much happier than jumping into a chilly-ish lake after getting baked under the hot sun on the softball field for an hour or so). Thankfully, we didn't have any softball 'incidents' this year that were remotely on the order of last year's line-drive-off-the-face.
Anyway, I came up to bat at one point in the game (actually two or three times; but this story is just about one of them). I have maintained a reputation among summer-camp softballers as a pretty fearsome power hitter, but truth be told, I can't quite jack the ball to the far reaches of the camp anymore, quite like I could when I was still spelling my age with a '3', or even a '4'. Especially since the advent of the mush-balls. But I can still stroke a nice line drive most of the time, even if I no longer have the legs to turn most of those line drives into home runs, or even triples. Aging is such a pain. . .
So, on the at-bat in question, I stroked a screaming line drive to the deepest corner of center field, and as I watched it bounce, I saw it heading for a gap in the trees which, if the ball made it through, would give even a lumbering old man like me a decent chance at circling the bases. So I turned on the jets (such as they are) as I rounded second base.
And - *ping!* - my hamstring stretched and recoiled back on itself. I yelled out in pain, and I had all I could do to make my way safely to third base, in the fashion of a deranged, wounded walrus. I stood on third for a few minutes, trying to ascertain the extent of my injury. It seemed not to be too bad - I could still stand and walk, albeit a tad gingerly, so I stayed in the game. Fortunately, the next batter stroked another line drive to the outfield, so I could limp home without further issue, and I got through the last day of camp with nothing more dire than some stiffness and soreness in the back of my leg.
But, you know. . . I was MAD! A pulled hamstring is the classic 'old man injury' (those of you who remember such things, think Joe Montana with the KC Chiefs); the classic sign of a brain that is willing to try anything that the body has ever done before, except that the body can't pull it off the same way anymore. By rights, I should've sped around those bases as lithely as I ever did (which, let's be honest, never exactly rose to the level of 'gazelle-like', even in my prime). I hit the ball hard, and I knew what I had to do, but my stupid body (which, I am thinking, Saint Francis of Assisi was all-too-apt in calling 'Brother Ass') rebelled. I was angry and frustrated.
The anger and frustration eventually gave way to something more like disappointment and resignation to the simple fact that I am getting older, and now I have to work out the implications of that 'aging-ness' in terms of my behavior. Which can stir up the resentment that I should even have to worry about stuff like that, if I let it. But, you know, life is what it is, and it behooves me to conform my life to the actual Universe, rather than demand that the Universe conform itself to my wishes (the Universe is notoriously stubborn on stuff like that).
The funny thing is, even while I was still at camp, I found that climbing stairs didn't bother my leg at all. And on Sunday, the day after we got back home, I went out to test my leg on my bike, and ended up going 32 miles. Even though it hurt to lift my leg to put my socks on. Very weird.
But, you know, I'm not complaining. . .
While six of our family members were at camp, 7M was on a week-long hike with a group of jr-hi boys from our community, on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia. He had a great time, taxing himself physically, strengthening his friendships with the other boys, and enjoying God's creation in the process.
One day, toward the end of the hike, 7M, as jr-hi boys will be from time-to-time, was feeling a bit down; perhaps his will had run afoul of one of the adults-in-charge (as will also happen to jr-hi boys, from time-to-time), but he was moping about, and wandered off a short distance from the campsite. He found a log to sit on, and began picking up stones from the ground and randomly tossing them in no particular direction.
One stone in particular caught his attention - flat and maybe three inches across or so, it was sufficiently buried as to require a bit of effort on 7M's part to coax it out of the ground. When he finally did, he found that the stone had been inscribed in purple-Sharpie with the message, "Smile, God loves you".
Which, you know, isn't necessarily the most profound of all possible messages, but right at that moment, it met my son where he was living. . .
This past weekend, the town where I live (OK, actually the college town right next door) hosted the annual Great Lakes Folk Festival, a weekend event in which various flavors of 'folk' groups from all over the midwest (and actually, much farther afield than that) come to perform. The festival has been going on for something like ten years, but Jen and I have only gone for the last three years (and now wonder why we weren't more strongly motivated before that). It's a really great time to hear some really fine, really fun music performed by some really talented musicians that you might never hear on your radio.
It turns out that our town is something of a regional hotbed of folk music, especially bluegrass and blues. There's a music store in town to which people come from multiple states away, just to shop their selection of 'folk' instruments - mostly stringed instruments like guitars, bass guitars (an acoustic bass guitar is a pretty impressive-looking instrument), mandolins, ukuleles, dobros, dulcimers, etc., etc. I've even seen a few harps on the sales floor, over the years. A friend of mine went to Germany a few years back, and one of the Germans he met asked where he was from. When my friend told him, he said, "Ah!" and named the music store. . .
Jen and I went to the festival this past Friday evening, and saw a Hawaiian guitarist, a Michigan-based bluegrass band, a klezmer band ('Jewish soul music'), and an Irish Celtic group (with every bit of the rollicking good humor that you might associate with such a label). Each of them played about a 45-minute set, and each was wonderful in its own way. Part of the charm of such a festival is being able to sample so many disparate musical styles in one venue, over the course of a weekend.
And part of the charm of living in Our Town. . .
Jen and I went to the festival on Friday night with our very good friends Richard and Stef (Richard and I were each other's Best Men, and Stef was my once-upon-a-time date to see Paul McCartney). As we relaxed during one of the breaks between sets, I noticed an elderly gentleman (well, he was at least fairly obviously older than me) (at least, it seemed fairly obvious to me), who was seated directly in front of us, carrying on a conversation with two men seated on either side of him. I was sort-of idly people-watching, when the thought arose in my head that this gentleman looked familiar, somehow, although I couldn't quite place him (at this point, I hope I wasn't crossing into 'creepy' territory as I intently checked out his face for clues as to where I might have known him, once upon a time).
Then the penny dropped. The man reminded me A LOT of a Catholic preist who had been at the student parish back in my college days. I wasn't sure it was really him - it's been more than 30 years since I'd have last seen him, and this gentleman was thinner and frailer than the priest I remembered; to say nothing of white-haired, and sporting a white beard, whereas the priest I remembered had a thick black mustache (Italian as he'd been). I turned to Richard and whispered in his ear, "is that Fr. Jake sitting in front of us?" He turned and replied that he'd been thinking the same thing.
We debated for a few seconds as to how we might best determine the answer to our curiosity, when one of the men he was speaking with called him 'Jake' by name, and we knew we'd been right. Before we could interrupt and (re-)introduce ourselves, he turned toward us with a broad grin and said, "You look familiar to me; do I know you from somewhere?" When we told him our names, he remembered us. Mostly, it seems, from a class that he'd taught at the university, that Richard and I had both taken, more than from anything associated with the student parish (although, after we'd talked for a while, he suddenly turned to me and said, "You used to play the guitar, didn't you?"; so the data points were slowly falling into place for him, too). We had a pleasant conversation for a few minutes, before he left to see another group play at one of the other festival venues.
The thing is, Fr. Jake is one of the utterly unique people I have ever known. He is just instinctively kind and gracious, and everyone who has ever met him has felt utterly loved and cared-for. In the course of our conversation, I thanked him for his part in bringing me into the Catholic Church, and Jen thanked him for helping keep her in the Church in her college years, when she'd been seriously considering changing her Christian affiliation.
As I grew deeper in my faith, Fr. Jake came to frustrate me greatly, as well. In his kindness, he often resisted speaking the 'hard truth', and I feared (and still do, although in maturer ways than I used to; I hope) that in his very great kindness, he was misleading some folks as to what the actual truth of the gospel was, or what God might require of us as response to His mercy. And I would guess that a fair bit of that frustration was mutual. But Fr. Jake never treated me with anything other than open, gracious love and kindness, and even for all the frustration, I have always remembered him fondly. He taught me a valuable lesson, that it is possible to disagree with someone, even deeply and passionately, and still love and value them at the same time.
He is 82 years old now, still active and fit (he was complaining that he'd screwed up something in his knee, playing tennis the day before), still teaching the class at the university. He's no longer associated with the student parish, but he is still a faithful Catholic priest.
And it was good to see him again, after 30+ years. . .
I HATE it when I screw stuff up. . .
Alas, I have hurt one of my very good friends, through my own culpable carelessness. I am hopeful that our friendship will survive my stupidity, but it will necessarily be different than it was before. My friend didn't do anything wrong; all my friend did was be in the wrong place when the consequences of my, um, stuff came down, and got splashed with the fallout.
If my friend should happen to be reading this, please understand that hurting you was the very last thing I ever intended. I hope you can forgive me. . .