Of all the ways to sign a yearbook the one that always brings a smile to my face is “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” This line from the Grateful Dead song “Truckin’” has become the cliché of clichés, yet for those who write it there is a sense of the bittersweet nature of leaving behind one period of life and embarking on another.
Yet, for the Class of 2021 at Saint Ignatius (and every Class of 2021 throughout the world) this line does seem to sum up their journey from freshman year to graduation day. The Class of 2020 had many of their cherished rituals cancelled, abridged, or modified, but they, unlike this year’s graduates, did not begin their senior year with their hearts full of trepidation, believing that the sky might be getting darker and the storm might be getting stronger.
As we went through our two-steps-forward and one-step-backward approach to school life we began to see signs of the clouds lifting, and we started to look at a regular end to the school year the way one looks at a possible no-hitter: If we don’t mention it then it might just happen. But as the year went on we became more bold in our speech and in our planning. Spring Musical, Prom, Baccalaureate Mass, Graduation all are now in the books.
For me, a watershed moment came when I heard that three seniors did what was unimaginable a year ago: they went on a road trip. They went truckin’ all the way to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to the Benedictine Monastery of Regina Laudis. Not the typical road trip destination, but these were not typical road trippers. Aidan McNamara ’21, Patrick Reali ’21, and Matthew Goodman ’21 were in search of Mother Noella Marcellino, O.S.B., and her award winning cheese.
Earlier in the semester, as a way of combining the Ignatian ideal of “finding God in all things” with the Benedictine motto Ora et Labora (Pray and Work), I showed a segment from Michael Pollan’s Netflix series Cooked where the food expert spent time with Mother Noella and her cheese. My seniors were fascinated by a nun who has a Ph.D. in microbiology and who sees the Resurrection in the process of making cheese. Two of them, Aidan and Patrick, were so taken by this amazing Benedictine sister that they made the 900-mile round trip journey and convinced Matthew, who was not in my class, to come along for the ride.
The pilgrimage was, sadly, only a partial success: they brought back some very unique cheese, but were unable to meet Mother Noella who had moved to a monastery on the West Coast. All of my classes benefited from this journey since they were not only able to taste the cheese, but also take in the unusual smell of the rind - described by Pollan as smelling like pieds de Dieu, the feet of God. Well, he got the feet part right.
When Aidan and Patrick described their journey all I could do was think of Jack Kerouac and his friend Neil Cassidy whose journey across this land was the source for the book On the Road and the characters Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty. Not that Aidan and Patrick did any of the crazy things that are recounted in On the Road, but that it was two friends, young Catholic men, like Kerouac and Cassidy, in search of answers to one of the most important questions that we can ask ourselves: What is worthy of dedicating my life to? It is no unimportant detail that it was Kerouac who created the phrase Beat Generation and that when asked to explain its meaning he replied that the root came from the Beat in Beatitude. What Mother Noella has found, and what the three pilgrims were in search of, was that blessed joy that comes from finding meaning through work that is also prayer.
So as our Class of 2021 goes truckin’ into the next stage of their lives let us pray that they are leaders of a new Beatitude Generation, a generation of those who are spontaneous enough to go on the road, but grounded enough to realize that the goal is to find God in all things.