Slowly the women file to where he stands
Upright in rimless glasses, silver hair,
Dark suit, white collar. Stewards tirelessly
Persuade them onwards to his voice and hands,
Within whose warm spring rain of loving care
Each dwells some twenty seconds. Now, dear child,
What’s wrong, the deep American voice demands,
And, scarcely pausing, goes into a prayer
Directing God about this eye, that knee.
Their heads are clasped abruptly; then, exiled
Like losing thoughts, they go in silence; some
Sheepishly stray, not back into their lives
Just yet; but some stay stiff, twitching and loud
With deep hoarse tears, as if a kind of dumb
And idiot child within them still survives
To re-awake at kindness, thinking a voice
At last calls them alone, that hands have come
To lift and lighten; and such joy arrives
Their thick tongues blort, their eyes squeeze grief, a crowd
Of huge unheard answers jam and rejoice –
What’s wrong! Moustached in flowered frocks they shake:
By now, all’s wrong. In everyone there sleeps
A sense of life lived according to love.
To some it means the difference they could make
By loving others, but across most it sweeps
As all they might have done had they been loved.
That nothing cures. An immense slackening ache,
As when, thawing, the rigid landscape weeps,
Spreads slowly through them – that, and the voice above
Saying Dear child, and all time has disproved.
This semester, my friend Jess Palacios and I coordinated a Catholic Christian retreat for college students called Awakening. It was my greatest challenge of the year. The size (more than 100 people attended, and most were actively recruited), cost ($9000 budget), and location (a summer camp twenty miles from Duke) were far greater than anything I’ve run before. We had a couple dozen activities, from student talks to prayer to Sacraments music to special meals, and each one took several hours of work on someone’s part. Furthermore, previous leaders often forget to write notes for their successors, much of what we did wasn’t organized at all until we took over (or until the weekend itself). I slept 10 hours over 3 nights during the festivities themselves and spent my spring break on it. Simply put, this retreat was what I did this semester.
It was more than worth it. I still feel the grace from helping to bring God’s love to so many people. Too often our social lives, which are meant to be a release from academic competition, become competitive themselves. This is obvious during Rush, when the freshmen angle to land as high as they can on the social hierarchy, but it truly happens whenever we tear down other people. At Awakening, there’s no room for that. We balance the retreatants by age, gender, Christian denomination, major, background – anything that we can mix, really – and put them into small groups, or “table families,” with 2 staffers as “parents” and 1-2 as “gophers” who fetch drinks (go-fers: get it?) and chip into discussions. Family is family, no matter what, and it’s beautiful to see a disparate group of people forget their snap judgments and first impressions, so important at parties, and love each other as people. I rarely see as many smiles, as much hugging, as many people being genuine as I do at the end of these retreats.
The weekend was spectacular. The parents and kids clicked, and many met weekly for the rest of the semester. (A couple families even went on camping trips!) The speakers were open and inspiring. Among my favorite observations: from Colleen, one should read Scripture even doesn’t understand it at the time so that when the heart breaks, the words fall in. From Mark: we shouldn’t use the semester to prepare for a retreat; we should use a retreat to prepare for the semester. From Jess: we are broken and beautiful. From Christine: we’re all in this together. The music and gopher staffs were joyful (and if you’re reading this, CMTs, I love you very much). After a logistically challenging first day, we hit our groove, and everything went smoothly Saturday and Sunday. The Bible skits the retreatants created were the funniest I’ve ever seen. Sunday, the last day and my favorite day, was also my 21st birthday! (I couldn’t take the customary 21 shots, obviously.) Jess, our sweet MC, was spectacular. I was too occupied with running around putting out fires and talking on the phone to having any long conversations with the staff and retreatants, and at the end, I was too exhausted to function, but I sacrificed myself so everyone else could be loved, and that was beautiful in itself. I received a spontaneous standing ovation when it was all over, and I’ll remember it to the end of my days.
“Let all that you do be done in love.” -1 Corinthians 16:14
The first thing I read to the staffers in January was the poem above. This Corinthians verse was the theme of our retreat, and in retrospect, it is a natural answer to Larkin. We are all loved, but we can’t control whether people express it to us or not. We have only our end of the bargain. I fail to show love many days because I’m too busy. (Students here seem to always be busy with something or other.) Industry is a great quality, but it shouldn’t turn us away from God. The answer, then, is to do everything with love. My friend John once told me that a musician’s personality greatly affects his sound, and most of the great musicians are also wonderful people. (Yo Yo Ma comes to mind.) So we can be witnesses to Christ no matter what we’re doing, and on top of that, when we do something with love, we’ll also do it better. So don’t despair. Get out there and love your brother.