Katie cried twice during our trip to New York. She was 12, just out of sixth grade. Her brother, Greg, had finished fifth. It was their first time in the city that never sleeps, although they found that not to be an entirely accurate claim, and their first time flying. It was an opportunity for me to share a city I find captivating and fun.
The first tears came during dinner at a restaurant in Manhattan’s Little Italy where I’d eaten a few times before. None of the staff seem to speak English and I’d never quite figured out how the place works. All I know is that once you’re seated the servers start bringing food, delicious food and lots of it. Which was the problem.
We got salad, bread, an appetizer, bowls of different pastas and sauces — and that’s when Katie started crying and laughing at the same time. “I am so full,” she said. That’s too bad, I informed her. There were two more courses of food yet to be served. We survived.
On another day we were walking uptown from visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. On the taxi ride into Manhattan from the airport I’d told Katie and Greg that if we got lost or separated we’d meet at Starbucks. It didn’t take them long to realize it was a flawed plan, since there was, it seemed, a Starbucks on every corner. The key would be to stay together and not get lost.
About halfway on the long walk to our hotel Greg and I realized that Katie wasn’t with us. She hadn’t been missing long, but there were several anxious moments as we looked desperately up and down nearby streets and sidewalks. Then I saw her across the way, hunched down by a light post, sobbing. What else would a 12-year-old girl lost in a strange humongous city in the days before cell-phones do?
Greg and I headed toward her. I stooped down and put my arm around her. She was relieved to say the least. I said, “Katie, why didn’t you go to Starbucks? That was our plan.” She didn’t think that was funny. She cried and we hugged a little longer, and then we resumed our trek.
As Katie and Dan set off on this adventure that is certainly unpredictable and which will, in some instances, be frightening and strange, I wish I could tell them — “Just go to Starbucks!” It was a foolish plan then and it would be even sillier advice today. There are no simple solutions, nor easy answers to the multitude of complexities that the vagaries of life might – or, to be honest, almost certainly will – bring their way.
Which is not to say we leave them to go stand, terrified and uncertain, at the light posts of life. We trust that their faith will encourage them in moments of struggle and times of joy, but it’s our faith that compels us to recognize our role for them as well.
When parents in my parishes bring children to be baptized we question their intention to raise their child to follow Jesus and his gospel, and we ask the godparents if they are ready to assist the parents. But we also ask the entire assembly to pledge its support, that in personal and collective word and witness of life we will help the parents and this child to follow the way of Christ.
We don’t ask for such a formal declaration today, but our presence is an acknowledgment of sorts that we’re on board to encourage and challenge Dan and Katie, to console them when they cry and rejoice with them when they laugh, to pray for them and love them. And once in awhile we could also meet at Starbucks. TL