All, Culture/Life, Faith

Friendship and the ‘Whys?’ of Life

You know those seemingly random encounters that just really leave an impression? Conversations with strangers waiting in line somewhere or sitting next to you on a plane? Meeting someone at a party or other event?

You’re with these people for a minuscule amount of time–minutes or hours–yet there seems to be a genuine connection … and then you part ways.

Have you ever wondered about these meetings of happenstance? What was the reason? Why this person at this time?

Do you ever think that if life circumstances were different a real friendship could have developed? That if this were the movies a real friendship would have developed?

What are we supposed to make of these meetings?

I wish I had an answer, but the truth is that we may never know the why or wherefore in this life.

However, if the encounter seemed more than coincidental, it probably was more, and we should first just be grateful to God because “all good giving and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17).

If the experience made such a mark on your heart and mind, who’s to say that it didn’t resonate with the other person as well? Maybe there’s a lesson that can be learned from the other person or maybe it was simply supposed to be an experience of pleasure and cheer conversing with a fellow human being.

“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”

-Fred Rogers a.k.a. Mister Rogers

Or have you ever wondered why some friendships last a lifetime and other friendships, so important for a period of time, seem to fade?  Again, there doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason.

The Thinker-Rodin
Rodin’s “The Thinker” Source: openclipart.org

Sometimes, the years lend perspective, and we can look back and see how God allowed those friends to be in our lives for a reason — for mutual need or help.  “Some people come into your life for a reason; others only for a season.”

I also believe that if the friendship was true, you can pick up where you left off should your paths cross again.

Yet all of these meetings and partings with strangers, acquaintances, friends — they have the capability of leaving behind a yearning ache in your heart.  Humans are by nature social and relational.  We are made for fellowship and for communion with God and with one another.

Sadly, in a sinful, broken world, “good-byes” and “what ifs” can leave their painful, wistful imprint.  Because we can’t see the future and we don’t know when or if we will be re-united.

But we must hold on to hope and to trust in God’s goodness.

Though only in my twenties, I have lived long enough to know that sometimes those people who you thought you’d never see again re-emerge in unexpected times and places.  So say “see ya later” instead of “good-bye.”

Pray for your friends, acquaintances, and those “could-of-been” friends you randomly meet.  If someone is on your heart, reach out in a tangible way — call or write that person.  Heed the old saying, “If you want a friend, be a friend.”

If the circumstances surrounding that incidental encounter are such that it would be appropriate to try and strike up a true friendship, be courageous enough to do so.  You never know until you try.

Finally, I strive to hold on to the consoling hope of heaven.  If we cooperate with God’s grace and mercy, we can hope to be re-united with those for whom we’ve cared and those we’ve loved, however briefly, on earth.  In heaven, we will have an eternity to love God and love one another.

“Friendships begun  in this world will be taken up again, never to be broken off.”

-attributed to St. Francis de Sales

 

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All, Culture/Life, Tales from the Tutu Side

The Nostalgia of Nutcracker

bishops-wifeIn the 1947 Christmas film The Bishop’s Wife (which I highly recommend if you haven’t seen it), one of the characters, a college professor, suggests that the holidays are a good time for looking backward. Nostalgia and memories certainly seem to be an integral part of this season.  Emotions, both joyful and painful, can flood one’s heart and mind alongside these memories.  Images of lost loved ones, remembrances of past friendships, family traditions, funny stories, and everything in between.

A large part of my nostalgic reminiscences this year has involved dance and “The Nutcracker,” undoubtedly, because I recently performed in this ballet for the first time in many years. It was truly a joyous experience to be a part of it all again.  Nutcracker, as with all shows, can bond people together and facilitate camaraderie.  Carpooling to and from theaters in and out of town, hours-long rehearsals, waiting around in dressing rooms, cheering on friends and colleagues from the stage wings, enduring and laughing at all the random mishaps, mistakes, and bloopers that inevitably occur when all the various dance, stage production, and musical elements are combined.  And, of course, the unpredictability, nerves, and exhilaration of performances.  All of this can come together to produce memorable moments.

Naturally, performing in a Nutcracker again evoked memories of the people and places connected with my past Nutcracker experiences.  So many people who were my best friends, my teachers, so much excitement, laughter, hard work, tears, so much of what my life and my family’s life was like at that point. Looking back through the lens of intervening years and experiences, I can now appreciate even more the sweetness of those times.  It would be fun to have a time machine to transport me back if just for a day.

But I am also reminded of this Lewis Carroll quote: “It’s no use going back to yesterday because I was a different person then.” My friends and I were still kids, dreaming about what we would all be and do. We were different people back then–not just age-wise but emotionally, spiritually.  Nevertheless, I believe the heart of those friendships is still there.   I still truly care about all those people, even though I have lost touch with some of them, and I would welcome the serendipitous crossing of our paths once again.

“Some people come into your life for a reason, others only for a season.”  And some, I have learned, may enter, exit, and then re-enter one’s life when one isn’t expecting it…just like a dancer on a stage.  It is cool to be old enough to have gained the perspective to see how God can intertwine various aspects, experiences, and people in one’s life.  Some people that I danced with years ago and but with whom I lost touch, are now back by my side in the studio on a daily basis.  I consider it a providential gift and a happy surprise when occurrences such as that happen.

One shouldn’t live in the past because doing so blinds one to the blessings and lessons of the present moment.  However, now and then, perhaps during the holidays, it is good for one’s spirit to indulge in nostalgia and to travel down memory lane, to cherish what one had because it most certainly contributed to the person one is today.

Cheers to you, Nutcracker, and to all my friends, old and new, who are ineffably a part of those oh so memorable days!

 

nutcrackers

 

 

All, Art

The Gifts of Beauty and the Arts

NOTE: This is an edited version of an opinion piece that I wrote for Franciscan University of Steubenville’s student newspaper The Troubadour in March 2016.

This past February, Franciscan University was graced by the beautiful music of pianist and composer Eric Genuis.  His concert was one of the most inspirational events I had experienced in quite a  while.  Not only was his music exquisite, but he also shared so many profound thoughts about the importance of beauty and the arts in people’s lives.

In my final semester of college and as a life-long ballet dancer, it was a timely reminder of the value of something that has always been an integral part of my life.  Genuis exhorted the audience to fill their lives and their children’s lives with beauty.  “Beauty is the language of God,” he said, and the arts have the ability to encourage, uplift, and offer hope to people through an encounter with beauty.

Genuis gave multiple moving examples of this power, such as seemingly hardened prisoners for whom he performed, being deeply touched by the beautiful music.  He shared that one man stood up and exclaimed in the middle of the first piece that he had forgotten what hope felt like.

Genuis’ testimonies are concrete examples of how truly universal and unifying the arts can be.  The arts, both fine and performing, have the power to unite, in cordiality and friendship, people who might otherwise not have much in common.

An instance of this is the friendship of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.  She is a petite, liberal, Jewish woman, and he was a burly, conservative, Catholic man.  They clearly did not share the same political or religious beliefs, yet Ginsburg, in her statement following Scalia’s death, said that they were “best buddies.”  A noted part of their friendship was a shared love of opera.  There was even an opera written about the two of them.

We live in a society that is increasingly polarized and divisive when it comes to morals, to politics, to some of the really important questions in life.  These are, obviously, consequential differences that need to be respectfully discussed and considered.

However, part of the power of the arts is that they are, arguably, a great equalizer, a way to set aside our differences if even for a little while.  They are a means to celebrate the joy of being alive.  All people, no matter their political or religious affiliation, can enjoy and be inspired by a ballet, a play, a concert, or a lovely portrait.  They can be reminded that there is more to life and to the world than materiality.  They can be reminded of their own capacity for creativity and for goodness or for evil.

In his “Letter to Artists,”  Pope St. John Paul II, makes the important distinction between creation or bringing something out of nothing, which only God can do, and craftsmanship or working with already existing material, which is what man does.  Nevertheless, he writes, “God therefore called man into existence, committing to him the craftsman’s task.  Through his ‘artistic creativity’ man appears more than ever ‘in the image of God,’ and he accomplishes this task above all in shaping the wondrous ‘material’ of his own humanity and then exercising creative dominion over the universe which surrounds him.”

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