Does anyone out there have a "personal new year" on the calendar in their head? I know we all have a number of different calendars we use: the proper January-December one, the liturgical calendar, and the academic calendar are the three in my head. The first one was always there for me, the academic calendar really sets the rhythm of my life, and the liturgical calendar is one of those pieces of cultural heritage that I'm trying to revive and practice more and more, and to take advantage of in a greater way. It can be a profound tool of meditation on the Church, for example, to read through a Butler's Lives of the Saints as I did (in edited form), with one biography a day of a saint whose feast that day is. +++
Well, in my head, August 16th is always the first day of the new year. It's partially a reflection of the school year: half-way through August perhaps being when the Oregon High School Cross Country team would be legally allowed to start holding its practices and the school year would thus have a concrete (and fun!) beginning for me. But August 16th was the day that I arrived in Oregon, Illinois from Springfield, Virginia, just before the start of the second grade. After a few years of moving frequently I had now arrived at my home town, so to speak, where my family would remain until I was at Notre Dame.
August 16th is therefore to me the real beginning to my childhood. I can remember watching out of the car window as my Mother pursued my Father who had long since been lost ahead of us with my sister Leslie, when we pulled over in the Chicago area, unseen by Dad, to deal with a fallen tailpipe assembly. I still remember driving though that city for the first time, the terrifying swarm of automobiles flying through the endless gritty city, and the one that pulled up next to my Mom on the driver's side. Seated next to her, I remember the men who were violently motioning for her to unroll her window. For one frightening instant, I was sure they were going to shoot her. But they yelled at her about the tailpipe dragging behind, and I turned in my seat to see my little brother Joe in the car seat in the back, just as smoke was beginning to rise through the backseat. Dad didn't see us take the first exit as we honked at him, but the quick kindness of a mechanic at a station got the rusted pipe off the car and the three of us back on the road. So it was as we drove through yet another small town on the highway we were following, as I looked hopefully at a place called the "Dairy Freeze," I suddenly realized that we were going down a street and had left the highway. I would be able to visit the Dairy Freeze after all, for years. They made the best mint shakes, all year around, not like McDonald's, just around St. Patrick's Day. But McDonald's wouldn't arrive and drive them and their variety out of business until I had left Oregon for good. For me, what was important is that I realized this was it. This was going to be my place. And it remains profoundly so, even though we've all moved away now, and my life calls me to different places. Nevertheless, even though I was only seven, the moment of the occasion, left the date strong in my memory, graven in with deep strokes. So today is a new year.
I had a grand time of it, too. I spent the last several hours with a young woman named Holly, from whose sister Mike and Donna just bought their new car. Holly is preparing to start teaching 6th grade at a Catholic school here in town, is a Marquette alumna, and in talking with Mike, said that she would enjoy having a conversation with his friend who was very enthusiastic about teaching theology at the school level. So we got together at a place she recommended, over on the edge of the Third Ward, called The Wicked Hop, which was a fine choice for a place to drink, eat, and compare notes. Having decided to abandon her career in advertising, she went to Prague of all places to get her first teaching experience, teaching English, and is now in a Master's program at Mount Mary College doing the Americorps thing of starting teaching while getting the degree. Basically it was the same arrangement as Notre Dame's ACE (Alliance for Catholic Education) Program with which I worked several summers as a Mentor Teacher for Master's students--except that they've flat-out given her her own summer school classes to start with, with only occasional drive-by supervision! I couldn't believe it! But she seems more than capable, like she's got the gift. So we talked about teaching theology, and tried to figure out how and what to adapt or could be adapted to the 6th grade level from my dealing with mostly sophomores and seniors. There was also time for just pure theological conversation: it was kind of exciting to see someone just at the beginning of that "Okay, I'm going to figure this all out" quest. I remember asking the same, classic tough questions, which were either hers directly or ones she was getting from family members, and the sort of raw, intellectual excitement of starting to wrestle this entire intellectual system and to see what you could make of it. Like Jacob, in that process, you begin to realize you're wrestling God Himself, and the challenge, wonder, and daring fun of it all are that much greater. A good time.