Looking Ahead in 2002 With a Lively Dialogue

By and

Ordinarily, this weekly column space is reserved for some type of liberal propaganda?youthfully idealistic rant and repartee posing as legitimate social commentary.

Today’s rag being the first installment of 2002, however, a brief respite from the usual fire breathing seems appropriate.

I will share, then, highlights of a recent and reflective conversation with my old confidant, Catholic priest and fellow ale-sipping Irishman, Father Fitzgerald:

“Haven’t seen you in a while, James. Must be football season.”

“Hey, I made it to Christmas Mass. Didn’t you see me sitting in the pew behind old man O’Donnell? He showed me his holiday whiskey flask.”

“Of course. And now that Christmas is over, I guess I’ll see you again at Easter.”

“No Father, I’ll do better.”

“Hey, it’s your eternal salvation, not mine. But maybe you should make that your New Year’s resolution?actually finding your way into church once a week.”

“Sounds good. But you know I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. If something is worth changing, why wait until January 1? A resolution isn’t going to reduce my beer consumption or enhance my vegetable intake. I just don’t see the point.”

“That’s because you’re looking at it from the wrong perspective. A New Year’s resolution represents more than the vice you hope to give up or the promise you aim to keep. It offers a chance to reflect on your life and on the past year.”

“OK Father, what’s your resolution?”

“I’m refraining from beer?after I finish this one, of course.”

“Yeah, you and me both. Now get serious.”

“Well, I’m entering 2002 with a different mentality. Given the events of recent months, I see every day as a reminder of how lucky we are. I see the new year as an opportunity to reflect on that.”

“Lucky to live in this country?”

“Yes, but also how fortunate we are just to live. I can’t explain why God does some things.”

“Maybe it’s us, not God.”

“Regardless, you see with painful clarity just how fragile life is and how it can be snuffed out with hardly a moment’s notice. Sept. 11 served as the ultimate sign of that reality, but it happens daily on a smaller scale. Consider the three sisters who died in that car accident. They were coming home to Arizona for New Year’s but never made it. Tragedy strikes indiscriminately, regardless of whether you call your mother, pay your taxes or kneel down to pray.”

“I need another drink, the way this conversation is going.”

“Don’t get depressed, you’re just missing the point again. When these events occur, sadness naturally follows. But in a peculiar way, joy can also be manifest because we realize that we’re still here. You and I are alive and we have to make the most of that. Not just for ourselves but for those who aren’t as lucky. You or I could just as easily board the wrong plane or pick a bad night to drive.”

“But how can you be hopeful when it seems so random?”

“Because of the things that are not random. In extreme cases, which have suddenly become all too familiar, you may possess little control over life and death. But while you’re alive, you have the ability to decide so many things. Life offers the most amazing cornucopia of options. Every day you choose between good and evil on countless occasions.”

“Seriously? I don’t remember the devil tapping on my shoulder. Except that night with the cognac, the vat of butter and the Bulgarian women’s soccer team?”

“Is this a confession?”

“What? Never mind. I just meant that choosing between good and evil seems a bit exaggerated. Does anyone really do that every day?”

“Sure. When you act without considering the consequences?or worse, when you consider and then ignore them?you make a choice. How many times last month did you visit someone who you knew was lonely? How many hours did you spend performing community service instead of sleeping in or watching television? How many extra cheeseburgers did you buy for yourself without donating a dime to charity? How much?”

“Point taken.”

“I know it’s not a perfect world. But life provides us a marvelous opportunity to act, to change what is wrong. Beyond this, you can simply live with a greater purpose by remembering those who died. If something about your life feels wrong, change it?not just because you should but because you can. There is no guarantee that you won’t ever be in the wrong place at the wrong time. If that happens, you don’t want any regrets. Maybe that means going to Mass or maybe it means writing a letter to the editor about a belief you never had the guts to vocalize. Whatever the case, live with the realization?and the elation?that each breath is not an entitlement.”

“I hear that, Padre. But not everything is a choice as you make it seem. No one forced me to go to school, but I really don’t have an alternative if I want a decent job.”

“But think about all the times you show up to class just enough to get by. You doze off, skim the books and cram for tests. If you pass, your degree looks the same as if you sat up front and studied. Yet you missed something?you didn’t maximize your education. Maybe that won’t equate to a significantly higher paycheck, but too often I hear students like you asserting that some class will never apply to your career. Life is about more than killing yourself for a buck. You have the opportunity to learn, to question, to grow. Not everyone gets that chance. This year, more than ever, realize how lucky you are to be alive. Use that as motivation to not simply exist, but to live. Again, don’t do it because you should, do it because you can.”

“That’s heavy. But as long as we’re here, how about buying me dessert because you can?”

“Oh Lord! Finish your beer.”

James welcomes feedback at: [email protected] or send letters to the editor to: [email protected].