Grace or Good Luck?

When I was twenty one, I graduated from college and went to work for the Catholic Church, where I was responsible for a youth group comprised initially of high school students, but rapidly grew to include junior high school youth and even some 5th and 6th graders.

It was a great job.

Over the past year, the marvels of FaceBook has meant that I’ve been able to be in touch with some of those (then) young people. There were a few that I was in touch with the whole time, but I lost contact with most. Still – over the years I’d see someone when jogging, or a friend of a friend would be in touch and I’d have a bit of a sense of what was happening to the young people with whom I spent my first 5 years post college.

In any case – it’s been pretty fun to find out what folks are doing. Seems to me (no scientific sample here) that most are doing pretty well. Oh, sure – I bet most have had the same trials as the rest of the population – working out challenging jobs and relationships, figuring out how to be married or divorced or both. But the folks that have been in touch? Seems like to a person they’ve remained warm, hopeful, optimistic. And that put me to thinking:

Was it good luck, back then, that tossed us all together? Maybe there was some of that. But I think there was grace, too, but not the cheesy grace that accompanies a holiday meal, or the kind that you might find on a get well card. No, it was grace of a different sort, I think.

Back then, I was thoroughly excited about being Catholic, and due mostly to a great Jesuit education – was also committed to seeking justice where I could, all with an attitude of inclusion and questioning that I find increasingly rare. And while I am less enthusiastic about the Catholic tradition these days – that sense of justice and inclusion are still with me.

Anyway – back then – what I remember the most of those five years was the essential goodness of the people with whom I was working. I bet many of them have kids that are teenagers or close to it – and maybe they are seeing some of the things that I remember seeing back then:

  • Young people had an almost irrepressible sense of optimism that was mostly warranted and very contagious. No wonder we had fun – all we needed was to be in the same room together.
  • They also exhibited a clever sense of humor that I think is fleeting – it was full of adult perception and youthful indiscretion. If I had a nickel for every time I laughed when I shouldn’t have – I’d still have a lot of nickels!
  • They cared for each other. Oh, sure – there were groups and pairs and threesomes. And there were hurtful things, and young romances, too. But all in all – it was more likely than not that I witnessed a genuine sense of caring for one another and for the larger group – despite some of those groups and pairs and threesomes.
  • They wanted better. To be better humans, to care more deeply, to be more authentic. Sure (just like me) there were moments of anger, laziness, spite. But overall – people wanted be better at who they were becoming.

I can recollect specific moments (like when I inadvertently showed “the evil dead” to a group of high school students and had to rapidly figure out how to process that with them without losing my job. Or when we took almost 100 people skiing and I had to float the lift tickets and hotel on my credit card. Or the trip to Ocean Shores where it rained so much I thought we’d wash into the ocean. Or the time (another ski trip) when two people both broke legs. Or the fun of taking pictures, developing slides in the hotel bathroom, and showing them less than 2 hours after a weekend away.) Mostly though, I remember laughing a lot – laughing at the funny, at the fun, at the ridiculous, at myself.

So – good luck? The right young people at the right time? Or grace?

I think it was a combination – lucky for me to be surrounded by those young people, for sure. And lucky that I showed up post college feeling pretty enthusiastic. And lucky that my boss was terrific. (We still have lunch together).

But it was full of grace, too, but the real stuff, not the cheese-ball. The grace of self acceptance (at least sometimes) of forgiveness (a lot of times) of humor (most of the time), of trying to be better.

So – thanks, all. Thanks for being back in touch. Thanks for the chance to be together all of those years ago.

And write and tell me how it is with you, too. The real stuff, like back in the day. I probably can’t change any of your circumstance, but I can certainly listen and wish you well – which is about all we did the last time we were together.


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