Brooklyn

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I made a wrong turn on Eastern Parkway today and got a nice tour of the area for myself before righting my route.

Some New Yorker I am.

But while my wife is from Brooklyn, it’s never been my favorite borough. I don’t really know why. It is quite an impressive place and people are nice and streets have character. Brooklyn is indeed a fine borough.

The subway is a mish-mash of people. Old, young, white, black, the occasional Hasidic with his hat and curls. Crown Heights is certainly the melting pot it has always been.

Over the bridge we go, the mighty Brooklyn Bridge. A landmark like no other. Amazing! We plan to walk over it on Friday night.

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I visited Brooklyn Jesuit Prep today which indeed was an impressive place. Small classes with lots of individual attention for students who need it. Students from low income areas whose parents probably work two jobs to make ends meet. They rose and shook my hand and welcomed me…each student in the class I visited. My students love them, worry for them, tutor them, and show them much care. They think about whether they are getting enough attention and what they can do in this short term to make that happen.

It’s a very Brooklyn thing to think about such matters. Brooklyn folks stick together…families, friends, neighborhoods binding together as no other.

Maybe it could become my favorite borough one day, if like Brooklyn, I just accept everything as it is and help it become all that it can be.

Mourning in Brooklyn

After a ride on the Chinatown bus from Buffalo, I’m sitting in a Brooklyn bagel shop (one of the most glorious places in the world!) awaiting the wake and funeral for my friend, Elizabeth. I decided to make the trip mostly because it’s the holiday season and many people probably won’t be able to take the time off work or may already be traveling to where they spend the Christmas season. I don’t know Elizabeth’s mother well, but I have met her a few times, so I felt that perhaps she might need Elizabeth’s friends to be there for her. I also thought it the situation were reversed, Elizabeth wouldn’t think twice about coming to my funeral. She’d be there.

I also remember being inspired to attend funerals by a Jesuit at one time who always encouraged us to attend when we could. He mentioned that it was important to go to wakes and funerals. A friend prodded, “But why? What can you say to anyone then?”

He quickly retorted, “You don’t need to say anything! People will just remember that you were there. That’s the important thing.” I found that to be wise advise and I’ve tried to make it a practice to do so; to be present, especially at wakes and funerals, but also at other times.

This kind of simple presence has become central with the students during spiritual direction. There are times where I just listen and am present and not much more and in that space, students have found the contemplative space that they lack in the world of hectic noise.

While I didn’t serve as Elizabeth’s spiritual director, I was a sounding board for her once in a blue moon. In the times we planned retreats together, I’d often have to listen to her talks that she was going to present and offer a critique on them along with the rest of the team. I can still see her smiling and thinking as one of the team members would reveal an insight that got her thinking differently. Or someone would offer a comment that would make her write furiously so she wouldn’t lose a valuable thought.

So today I sit in that same silence (well, sorta, it IS Brooklyn after all). The roar of the cars and subway are merely passing over me. The cacophony of Brooklyn accents are harder to ignore. It is a messy silence, a silence that we shouldn’t always settle for, but one that still gets me in the place I need to be with God. A settled silence which leads us to God.

When our noises settle for a final time, perhaps that silence is a welcome peace. Perhaps God removes us from that noise and places us in peaceful contemplation where there are no distractions, no illnesses to keep us from what we hope to accomplish. Our imperfections die away and we are transformed into a pure peace.

That is what I pray for Elizabeth today. And in the somewhat stillness…I wait. I mourn. I pray.