Weekly E-mail: The One Constant through All the Years
May 6, 2024

Hey kids,

This coming Friday, Jackie, Lando and I will be hopping into the car for a quick trip down to Delaware. My good friend Zak is getting married on Saturday, and a few of us from St. Elizabeth's will be at the celebration. I only regret that I can't make a longer weekend of it. It'd be wonderful to arrive Thursday evening so I can spend more time with all of my friends, but we'll have just a handful of hours on Saturday to be in community with each other. And on the other end, we'll miss Jamie reading some of her work down in Washington on Sunday. We instead will be driving back to Lowell; I have work on Monday morning and no vacation time to use.

This is the way of the world as it currently exists. I lament the lack of freedom, the limitations forged by prior obligations. But:

Before they were the Class of 2005, they were just a bunch of freshmen. Children, really. Barely functioning middle school graduates who were standing at the threshold, about to take their first step into a much larger world. The school had organized a night out at Frawley Stadium, home of the Wilmington Blue Rocks, with minor league baseball serving as the backdrop to nervously chattering teens. Students would be dropped off at school, bussed to the stadium where they would sit on bleachers for two hours, and sent back to campus for moms and dads to pick up their little ones.

One of the incoming freshmen kids had been dropped off, knowing nearly nobody in the crowd gathered on Cedar Street. He looks around, recognizing that he couldn't be a party of one for too long. He sees a tall boy with glasses and wonders, "Is he as smart and insecure as I am?" Only one way to know for sure. The kid pushes himself forward through the clumps of people chatting.

"Hi." A short pause. "Are you looking forward to the game?"

Small talk, unremarkable in most circumstances. The two decide to sit together on the bus taking them to the Riverfront. They sit on the bleachers and continue talking. Some other students make a few jokes, and the kid feels scared. But he isn't alone.

I've written so many times about how Sixth Grade Me could never imagine his future self. Those were lonely, hard days. Foolish pining, holding my breath through six periods, lunch and recess. Let me make it to tomorrow, I sometimes thought. It was an approach that barely worked for a year, but was certainly untenable as a long-term survival strategy. Hiding in my bed wasn't going to make my life better. That wasn't a space for rest, it was another place where I was told terrible things about myself.

The crucial thing to know about thresholds is that you must make the choice to cross them. If you're pushed through, you're likely not ready. The dragon on the other side will strike you down, and you'll have to try the whole thing again. But if you refuse to try at all from the start, you miss the exquisite reward on the other side: the essence of life.

There isn't one thing that I can point to that saved me from that lonely life. Getting a $60 acoustic guitar from the pawn shop on Marsh Road; taking lessons with Chris Gordon at Accent Music; following him to the Grand School of Music in downtown Wilmington. All these moments helped a lot: I could be a rock star, if I wanted to. It'd take me a while to realize that that specific career wasn't my true desire - but it did provide me a reason to hope and create.

But what's the point of creating if you don't have anyone to share it with? I chose, over and over again, to engage with people who had no real reason to engage with me. Why would they choose to spend time with me, out of anyone on the planet? Well, I gave them a reason. Going up to Zak and asking if we could sit together. Hearing Jon sing blink-182 in World History class, and letting him know that I also like that band. Being excited to hang out with Lauren at Academic Bowl meets. Finding out that Dave's cousin was in our Honors Geometry class. Saying, "Raise the proverbial roof" in front of Joey one day after school. I found connection and friendship and love over and over and over again that first year at St. Elizabeth's, and my life has been better for it.

On September 21, 2019, Jackie and I got married. We were incredibly intentional about celebrating the community of human beings who had stood by us for months, years, decades. We declared our commitment to justice in the face of meanness, to idealism in the face of cynicism, to love in the face of hate. People stood shoulder to shoulder in the bright New Hampshire sun, reminding themselves of what they already knew: this world is good. The future is what we make of it.

That night, one of my friends told me something that has stuck with me. I won't quote anyone; my memory is too foggy, and I don't want to ascribe inaccurate sentiments. Instead, let me tell you something you may not already know: I was not easy to be with in high school. Too angry, too judgmental, too melancholy. But these five people never gave up on me. They never walked away. They let me rage and cry and say mean things. They formed a wall around me that shielded me from danger. They were the first community I'd ever had, and I would not be who I am without them.

When things were at their bleakest in the fall of 2023, this group of people bought me a pizza. These human beings, each with their own partners and priorities and worries, took time to feed me, to remind me that we are never truly alone. And this Saturday, I will raise my glass to Zak and Alex, then to all of the people whose love and grace have sustained me for nearly a quarter century. May they have lives overflowing with hopes and joys, a bounty of possibilities.

-Paul



Would you like to receive these Weekly E-mails in your inbox? Send me a message: paul@pinpoints.community