I once had a friend I’d like to tell you about. Actually, he was my brother Paul’s friend–one of his best–and, in that cool space of time in my and my brother’s late teens and early twenties, when a lot of our interests and friends mingled and bounced off of each other, when we hurtled back and forth to each other’s cities in South Orange and Philly and Carlisle and Baltimore, I guess his friend was mine, too. I only knew him for a little while–and certainly not as well as my brother did–but the memories of this friend have stuck with me for years. I have snippets of memories of him: the way all seven of his siblings jumped on him when he came home, for instance: they actually came RUNNING out of rooms and through doorways and leapt on him in absolute excitement to see him. The way he was unapologetically enthusiastic in his faith is something that made a huge imprint. I remember talking with him one day–we were sitting in my ancient ’88 Accord outside a restaurant in Philadelphia Chinatown one Saturday afternoon. I was in such a rocky place in my life–unsure of where to go or what to do (this theme pops up a lot when I talk about my 20s, doesn’t it?). And I remember him just grinning and telling me, “Just talk to our Blessed Mother, Leah! She’ll take care of you.” To have somebody my age talk like that (and to be honest, to have somebody my age and Catholic talk like that. Everyday Catholics aren’t exactly known for their unabashed Godly glee)–this person wasn’t somebody who sat through church and *cough* daydreamed during the important parts. He wasn’t waffling in his faith. He wasn’t even just sure of it. He was excited. And he certainly wasn’t worried about sounding cool or not when the subject came up–which, most often, it didn’t unless he brought it up. I knew right then and there that he was somebody I’d always look up to. Because his heart was light years ahead of mine. Frankly, I think it always will be.
David and I haven’t had to talk with our kids about what happened last week in Charleston. They’re young, and we don’t watch the news on TV very often around here, so, thankfully, they’re ignorant of the magnitude of the hate in some people’s hearts. I know that they are very, very lucky to be so. But they will learn of it. They will know. And all we can teach them is love. Love above all. Believe in that, my kids.
They have recently started to notice that there are lots of different kinds of families and couples in the world. They’re curious, and we answer their questions, and that’s where it stops. If they’ve noticed different types of families in our own family, they haven’t mentioned it. It’s just…family. It’s love. They’re also just learning (a side effect of belonging to one church, and attending a school attached to that church) that there are other faiths–faiths filled with good people, who do good deeds–outside of our little corner of Christianity. They ask questions, we answer. It’s so simple. They’re so pure. All they know is that if love is the root of something–a relationship, a faith, whatever–love is the important part.
Our friend Greg was a special education teacher. He went on to get his master’s in diplomacy and international relations. And on this date in 2008, the good heart of 30-year-old Army Capt. Gregory Dalessio was ambushed and killed in Iraq when his patrol exited a weekly reconstruction meeting. As I type this, I still can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that somebody with that big a soul could have had it leave his body so soon.
I’m back in my mode lately of feeling like I’m failing at a lot that I do. I’ve been waking up without wanting to tackle the day. I’m impatient with the kids and short with David and just feeling lost and sad and overwhelmed. It will pass, but when the cloud visits, it’s often extra dark. And, too often with what our country has had to be a witness to–this week, yet again, in terror–I look at what’s happening in one community, knowing it can happen in any, and wonder what kind of world I’m raising my children in–and more importantly, what kind of children I’m raising to live in this world.
But then I see today’s date. It’s June 23. And I remember the phone call with my brother, not three months after our father died, after he got the news of Greg. I think about the funeral, about all the people there, about learning that as Greg died he only had one question for the soldier holding him: “Am I loved?” I think about the procession, about passing by his house, about seeing the gigantic banner hanging on the front that shouted, “Welcome home, Greg:” a sign made for the homecoming after his first tour of duty and all too applicable that day, as well. And I think about Greg, in the middle of a U2 concert years before, when he leaned over to my brother during “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and shouted, “This is for our Lord and Savior, Paulie!!” And, once again, I remember thinking, my God, I will never be that good.
Love carries on, though. Love weaves, constant, in and out of our lives, and is as present as we want it to be. It’s there at prayer vigils, and peaceful protests. It’s at food banks and school volunteer nights. It’s at military funerals and, yes, U2 concerts. A lot of times in these past years–I’m being totally honest here–I’ve thought to myself, “What would Greg do?” I don’t know if Greg was always as I saw him. But my experience with him was enough that it echoed others’ views, and it was enough that it made David wish he’d had the chance to meet him, and it was enough that it made me look through the world with a solid chunk of an idea of how I’m supposed to live it, rather than the way the world tells me I should. Charleston. Sandy Hook. Salman Pak, Iraq. And yet, we still carry on.
What would Greg do, I ask? Here’s what I think:
- Wake up with hope.
- Believe in the good, loudly.
- Live our days so that no one who knows us ever needs to ask, “Am I loved?”
Because yes, yes, we are. No matter what happens, love is always there. Even if some days it seems like only the martyrs and heroes know how to show it.