Sometimes I get the feeling that there are no coincidences.
On Tuesday I happened to walk past Dan Baron’s desk as he was looking at a photo that had been taken three years ago. It seems that Facebook often gives you flashbacks on the anniversaries of various postings, and in this case Dan had the opportunity to view a photo that he took on the Mall as Jim Skerl ’74 was giving his valediction to the student body on his very last day with us. The focus of this particular photo isn’t Jim Skerl, Theology teacher, but Jim Skerl, husband.
In this photo with Jim was his wife Kym, and the picture carries its meaning because of her presence with him as it reminds us all that the journey of life is one that we are not called to walk alone.
In the classroom each day I try to do my best to continue the work that Jim began in the Christian Manhood course for our seniors, passing on his wisdom and adding my own perspective to his insights. Recently we have been discussing the importance of abiding by the Truth in our lives as a means of achieving personal integrity and happiness. As someone with a background in philosophy I found it helpful to see our discussion in light of the ancient Greeks who focused on the importance of the phrase “know thyself.” But I also wanted to give our discussion a modern slant as well, and so we have spent a bit of time on the 20th
Century philosophical school known as existentialism.
Essential to existentialism is the concept of authenticity. An existentialist does not have the Thomistic view that our lives are imbued with meaning through the intervention of a loving and personal God, and therefore the quest of the existentialist is to find that meaning through the search for authenticity.
With or without the help of God, that search is a necessary part of what it is to be a human fully alive – as Socrates noted at his trial: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” So authenticity and personal integrity or wholeness are meant to be the two rails upon which we travel as we move from one moment to the next, seeking to live the examined life, a life worth living.
For most people, that journey is made with an ‘other,’ a person of such like-mindedness and spiritual kinship that vows are exchanged and promises are made to be with and for one another until death. For Jim and Kym the “until death” came much sooner than either of them could have imagined, yet the spouses in the picture that showed up on Dan Baron’s Facebook wall show no signs of the fear that so often accompanies impending death.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear,” is what St. John the Evangelist tells us in his first letter. The Skerls, in that moment of true authenticity, are the embodiment of the love that drives out fear. To move one’s gaze from them to the young men around them is to see the impact of love on those who recognize it. Some strain to see the couple while others avert their eyes – both are understandable reactions to the unselfconscious nature of the romantic embrace that transcends romance.
Anyone who took Christian Manhood from 1981 to 2014 had the opportunity to read The Little Prince
by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. What on the surface is a children’s book is really a storehouse of transcendent truths by which to live one’s life. Of all the lessons that Jim wanted to impart to his students the most important was the central theme of this classic text: It is the time that you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.
The young men lucky enough to be enrolled in Christian Manhood learned that lesson in class. For the students who stood on the Mall on that memorable October day in 2014 that lesson came to life in the embrace of two people whose lives were intertwined roses. Let us hope and pray that all who witnessed this and other such signs of the love that overcomes fear are given the courage to offer themselves to another with the same wholeness, integrity and authenticity.