Thursday, October 30, 2014

Looking Out for Each Other

Student assembly address:

Our friends often see things more clearly about us than we can see for ourselves. We all know situations where a girl dates a guy who is "no good for her”, but she cannot see this herself, because she's too blinded in her affection for him. I once knew a fella who drank too much, and his friends knew it, but he was too proud to admit it and claimed he could stop whenever he felt like it—but he didn't feel like it. Or maybe we have a friend who is in an abusive relationship and we see quite clearly that it’s abusive, but he or she cannot see it, because he or she is too wrapped up in it.

We see these things and we care about our friends, but we often don’t know what to do about it. There’s a part of us that doesn’t want to interfere, that wants to respect the privacy of others, that recognizes at some level that we have to live our own lives, and that if our friends make mistakes, they will eventually have to pay for these mistakes on their own. 

The instinct to respect someone's privacy is a good one, but too often, it can become a cop-out, a rationalization to avoid doing what is hard. We don’t want to challenge our 
friends. We know that they’ll get defensive, maybe even angry, and tell us to mind our own business. We worry that if we tell our friends the truth, it will hurt our friendship, maybe even end it, and we don’t want that.

Two quick stories:

A former colleague of mine was the best friend to a woman who was engaged to the man of her dreams: He was witty, successful, very polished and handsome. What she did not know was that he was unfaithful to her, even during the engagement. My colleague knew this, but couldn’t bring herself to tell her friend the truth, because she knew it would devastate her. So she kept what she knew to herself. What eventually happened was entirely predictable, though tragic: they got married, had a daughter, he committed adultery many times, they got divorced, he remarried, he cut off ties with his child, the wife was hurt very badly, and her child grew up a psychological mess, having felt abandoned by her father. My colleague tells me it was one of the biggest mistakes of her life not to tell her friend what she knew well before the marriage—she saved her from hurt during the engagement and instead guaranteed her far worse hurt for many years, not to mention the scars the daughter now carries.

The second story: Two girls I know grew up together as best friends, from kindergarten on up. They spent the night together often, went on family vacations together, and had pictures of each other all over their bed rooms. Since they were both smart, they took many of the same classes together, and helped each other excel in school. They were very close. However, in their junior year, one of them began to smoke marijuana. At first, it was just every now and then. But as she became a more regular user, her friendships began to change, and she began to change too, caring less about school. Though she had been a very moral person, when she was high, she was promiscuous, and had been in several compromising situations with guys, which made her feel terrible about herself the next day. 

Her friend didn’t know what to do. She talked to her, and was instantly rebuffed. She wrote a letter, telling her that she loved her and was worried about her, that she would go with her to tell her parents and to get her help, but was told to back off and quit acting so “high and mighty”. Her friend’s life unraveled further. She began to use other drugs. Grades were awful-attitude was worse. As a last resort, not knowing what else to do, the friend met with the girls’ parents privately. She told them that their daughter was her best friend, but that she was destroying her life and she needed help. She told them everything she knew. Her parents suspected as much and had been reluctant to admit it , but could not avoid doing so once told by their daughter's best friend. They family did an intervention. The girl went into treatment. 

Of course, the girl who used drugs was very resentful toward her friend for what she had done. For a year, she cut off contact entirely. But as she became well again, she slowly became her old self and started doing better in school. She graduated on time with her classmates. Eventually, slowly, the two friends reconciled. “I hated you for over a year”, she told her friend. “But it wasn’t really you. I knew you were right all along. I hated myself. Thank you for doing what you did. You loved me even more than you loved our friendship. Please forgive me.“ 

Let’s look out for each other. It’s easy to be a friend when it’s all good times and laughter. The real measure of our friendships is how courageous we are to tell each other the truth, even when the truth is hard. Let’s not wait for things to escalate or to get out of hand. We often know things about our friends long before people in authority do, and when it finally reaches that level, it’s often too far down the road to resolve well. 

May you be blessed to have these kinds of friends. May you have the courage to be these kind of friends to each other.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The JPII I'm Proud Of

Student assembly address:

I went to the Fr. Ryan soccer game last Saturday night—the quarterfinals of the state playoffs. We had about 50 students there to cheer on the girls, and they did so with great enthusiasm. Boosted by their support, our girls played very competitively and were briefly ahead, always within one goal, until mid-way through the second half when Fr. Ryan pulled away. Even when it became apparent that we were going to lose, our students stayed and continued to cheer. When the game was over, our students shouted out “We are proud of you” and stayed to high five the girls as they came off the field.

On my ride home that night, I thought about those students, loyal to the end, who cheered with great gusto for their school’s soccer team, not because we were winning but because they were their friends and classmates, and that’s what we do here at JPII.  That’s the JPII I’m proud of.

And then I began to think of other things. I thought of a young man who graduated from last year’s class, for whom school was difficult. He came to countless tutorials and was met with generous, patient teachers who helped him get through a college preparatory school. And as he walked across the stage last May at the Grand Ole’ Opry to receive his diploma from the bishop and pose for a picture with me, I whispered to him “We are SO proud of you,” and he whispered back, saying, “Thank for all that JPII has done for me.” That’s the JPII I’m proud of.

I’m thinking of a family whose children are true scholars, National Merit finalists all, but carry themselves with great humility and concern for others. That’s the JPII I am proud of.

I’m thinking of a young man who graduated a few years back who lived without his father, and struggled early on as a student here. He graduated from JPII, signed a scholarship to play football, and will be graduating this spring with the intention of going to graduate school. During his senior recognition ceremony, he's asked a member of our coaching staff to escort his mother onto the field, so grateful is he to JPII and to this coach. That young man, and that coach, and the teachers who helped him, are the JPII I am proud of.

I am thinking of students who are curious, smart, playful, competitive, ambitious, committed to serving others, and committed to their faith. That’s the JPII I am proud of.

I hope you’re proud, too.