Walk Beside Me
By the end of June, four women whom I've come to know very well through work will leave and go on to do other things in the world of Catholic education and evangelization. They are an exceptional group of well-educated, articulate, faith-filled women whom I greatly admire. I honestly don't know if I am ready to let them go. Quite frankly, I'm a bit panicked about the whole thing.
You see, I feel like I just got here and I still have much to learn from each of them.
Here's where I am with all of this:
First, Sister. The first time I officially visited Sister's school, she took me on a tour. As she introduced me to each class, she put her hand on my shoulder, saying, "This is my friend, Mrs. Roland. Let's give her a warm welcome shall we?" I was enamored by this because each time she said it, she moved in a little closer and I could feel the love emanating from her touch. This was the first time in my life I'd spent any time with a nun and my fascination ran deep. As she continued the tour my smile got a bit wider and my heart opened just a bit more. After the tour as we sat at her kitchen table and shared lunch, listening to her stories about her life as a nun, I knew then that I wanted what she clearly had: grace, humility and humor, all things I felt I lacked.
In recent months, Sister and I have had the chance to connect on a more personal level and it has been through watching her, that I've begun to understand that graciousness, humility and a having a sense of humor about yourself stem from an inner peace and contentment that result from cultivating a deep abiding love for Jesus. That's a mouthful, I know, but it's true. Sister's whole life is a witness to this fact.
As she retires, I will miss her genuine warmth. I will miss the way she makes me feel when I am in her company- loved and cared for. I crave a deep abiding love for Jesus like she has. I still have so many questions about how to be a witness to the faith like she is and regret that I haven't spent more time at her kitchen table hearing her answers. But I just got here and we haven't had enough time.
Now Maggie, the special education guru. Before she retires, I need to learn everything she knows about how we as Catholic educators can and should look at each child and see Christ first, the needs second. Every child. Every time. Her tireless advocacy on behalf of children with special needs throughout the country is both breathtaking and humbling to watch. What I don't know about all of her work could fill an ocean. I need her words. I need her passion. I need her strength to continue telling the stories. But it seems we've run out of time and I can't be her. I can only be me.
I also realized today that I need to learn all of the Broadway songs she knows before she leaves. Seriously. Her repertoire is vast. It's a thing, this musicality of hers. Something I have come to rely on when the work we do is too much and the victories are few and far between. I miss her voice already and she's not even gone yet. I'm not sure how I will manage without her. Just the thought of her absence in my everyday world of work leaves me feeling a bit unsteady.
Then there is Marguerite, who will be so damn mad at me for naming her in this post. I still need to learn from her how to say what I know is right even when the world wants me to sit down and be quiet or better yet, just go away. I still need to understand how to effectively advocate to keep academic expectations high for all students regardless of their zip code because that's what is right and fair and just. Because low expectations get none of us anywhere. I need to know what she knows about treating each child with respect and love. I want her intellect. I want her wisdom. I need her tenacity if I'm going to persevere without her in the office down the hall.
On a rather shallow note, I also want her clothing budget. She is a fashionista who wears pearls and an amazing array of earrings and jean jackets like no one I've ever met before. Everyone needs Marguerite in their world, a gal who in one moment can talk about the state of education in our inner city Catholic schools and in the next breath notice you are wearing a new dress and explain how a gold necklace would really show off the neckline making you look years younger and your skin look even more amazing than it already does. Well, you get the idea. But seriously, now that I know I am faced with having to make wardrobe choices on my own without her keeping it real for me, I am terrified. Literally.
Finally, Susan. The list of things I still need to know, to learn, to process with her is endless. In the short time we've worked together, my prayer life has become richer, my faith deeper, and my openness to the Holy Spirit wider - all because of her example. Truth? I have a feeling she doesn't even know the impact she's had on me. Because that's just how Susan rolls.
My first thought when she told me she was leaving was, "Now who will I go to for inspiration?" I am making peace with what I know would be her answer. It's what she's been trying to show me through her witness all along. I can almost hear her say to me, "It's not complicated Laura. The answer is always going to be go to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. The Blessed Mother will help guide as needed." Like I said, this is how she rolls. She makes the faith uncomplicated. She makes the faith accessible. She has given me the one word about our faith that helps me live it more fully.
Susan also has the loveliest laugh, which makes her leaving even more difficult to bear, as I will miss hearing it grace our hallways. Laughter like hers lightens the heart. I hope I never forget what it sounds like. It is that joyful. I wish you could hear it.
Not to put too fine a point on all of this, but encountering these four women over the last three years has changed me. They have each spoken to my heart on so many levels and as a result, I have grown in humility, fervor, charity and faith. I often say I want to be like them when I grow up and while that's true, the reality is that I want them to remain with me as I grow up, so that we can continue the journey together. I am that selfish.
When I was a little girl, I came across a poem of sorts that perfectly summed up how I felt about friendship at the time:
"Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow.
Don't walk behind me, I may not lead.
Just walk beside me and be my friend."
I believe this poem still holds true for me today. As I have reflected on this quote over the years and encountered women like Sister, Maggie, Marguerite and Susan, I've come to see the word friendship as synonymous with the word that Susan has used to describe how we should live out this beautiful faith of ours - accompaniment. In a true friendship we walk with others, without judgement, sharing what we can- wisdom, wit, witness, truth - in the spirit of helping the other become a better version of themselves, to be holy, to become saints.
It's how I will always remember these four incredible women: friends, who accompanied me, during the time in my life when I needed them the most, challenging and encouraging me to be the best version of me I can be.
As Sister, Maggie, Marguerite and Susan move on to the next thing He has put on each of their hearts, I am sad. It is only as I write this, that the reality of just how much I will miss them is beginning to set in; however, I also understand that it is only by moving on, which includes leaving me to the tasks at hand and to finish the work they prepared me to do, can there be room in their lives to accompany others in their time of need just as they accompanied me during mine. This is as it should be. And at the end of the day, this makes me ridiculously happy.