Monday, March 27, 2006

A View Of Age Creeping Up On Me, Part 2

Earlier today, I told you about how I'm beginning to feel older, if not old. Sometimes this is a good feeling. Sometimes it feels like the concept of age could sweep me away because the acknowledgement of mortality is hard to comprehend. These two examples, finishing the list of reminders of my increasing age, are perfect illustrations.

5) Learning that, sometimes, you can go home again. Back in middle school (around 6th grade), I was hit head on by my first crush. It was totally unexpected. I was playing with Barbie dolls one day, and in the grip of full fledged puppy love the next. I'm not even sure what it was about the guy that attracted me so, but it was there.

And it was totally unrequited. I was not a very popular kid in school, so I dared not tell anyone except my closest friends. I swore them to secrecy and bored them to tears with my pining. My mom told me that one day, she couldn't say when, I would grow past my crush and life would go on. Of course, I swore she didn't understand what I was going through because she was too old to comprehend it. She laughed and let the middle school drama play itself out. I never told the object of my crush how I felt and, as far as I know, he never figured it out.

Time marched on. One day, I realized that not only had I grown past my crush, life had indeed gone on, just like Mom said. There were boyfriends, serious relationships, even a marriage to my high school sweetheart that came and went. Still, from time to time, I wondered whatever happened to the boy from 6th grade.

A few months ago, I found out. I was reading the local paper and as I thumbed through the pages, there he was. He still had the same face but, just like me, he'd grown up. It was funny to see my grade school crush in a form other than the one I'd carried in my head for over 25 years. He'd become a teacher and was mentoring his students, using chess as a tool to mold young personalities - some probably going through their first unrequited crushes. On an impulse I sent him a note, congratulating him on his success and asking him to keep in touch. Dropping the note in the mailbox, I was convinced he wouldn't remember me.

I was wrong. Two days later, I got a call from him and we've been in touch ever since. We've shared memories of grade school, filled each other in on our lives, and discussed everything from politics to Penny on "Good Times." I've cheered on his chess teams - among the top teams in the country and preparing for national tournaments in Knoxville and Denver next month. It's been good to reconnect, to get past a long buried childhood fear, to make a genuine friend. To go home again, but not in the way I would've been capable of envisioning that day I put down my dolls, began to grow up and grow old.

6) Learning that, sometimes, you can't go home again.

This was my family's church. It was St. Agnes until around the late 80's when the Archdiocese of Detroit merged the parish with the former St. Theresa and Martyrs of Uganda was born.

It will always be St. Agnes to me. I was confirmed here. My sister was baptized here. My mother and grandmother made their profession of faith (the conversion to Catholicism here. The funerals for my maternal grandmother, my uncle, and my father were here. One of the reasons I stopped attending during my search for spiritual self was because the sanctuary came to remind me too much of loss - I was haunted by the pain of the deaths to appreciate the life in the church. Still, I always thought St. Agnes itself would endure in its new form as Martyrs of Uganda. Endure despite the pain of two parishes losing major parts of their identities when the merge took place. So many, like me, moved on to find a new church home or simply drifted away from the Catholic Church altogether. Endure despite hearing about the shrinking congregation. Sometimes, I'd been told, the church would only have a few dozen in attendance. The sanctuary could hold several hundred. Endure despite reports of the physical decay of the building because the church's spirit was of strong foundation. St. Agnes was built in 1922, but the building fallen into neglect because of the ravages of time and dwindling parish resources. Endure even though so many of the church's leaders, like my grandmother, had died or were reaching the end of their lives. Endure because, like so many things we take for granted, St. Agnes had always been there. It would endure because I just assumed it would, even though I, like so many of St. Agnes's other children, had moved on.

While it's not official - the official announcement comes later this week - the Archdiocese is preparing to close Martyrs of Uganda, close Martyrs of Uganda, close St. Agnes, for good. The Archdiocese says that the decision to close, merge, and trim local parishes is a tough but inevitable one. Demographic shifts, the aging population of priests and congregations in the Metro area and the costs of maintaining the older buildings simply means that tough choices have to be made. Metro Detroit Catholics have to sacrifice to endure. (See below for an update. 3/30/06.)

A major part of my childhood will vanish when the doors close for the last time this summer. The weekend youth group meetings, ones that helped mold and shape my personality, will be gone for good. The summer day camp, where I played, learned and grew, will never take place again. The Head Start classes, my first experiences with school, will no longer teach children how to count, tie their shoes, or the stories of the Bible. No one will seek peace in the confessionals, take communion, or kiss the bride in front of the altar with St. Agnes looking down on them, highlighted by the rainbows of light coming through the stained glass. So many happy memories of my childhood, of my fellow and former parishioners, will drift into memory with no concrete foundation when the final service concludes. The funerals of my beloved family members will finally come to an end when the lights are dimmed in the sanctuary for the last time.

The memories will live and the beauty of these memories will grow sweeter with age. Part of me, however, aches because when Martyrs of Uganda closes, a chapter of my life will die and I'll literally be unable to go home ever again. This is a sadness that will only deepen with age.

More to come later.

Update (3/30/06): The announcement came yesterday, Martyrs/St. Agnes will close in June. A date for the final mass has not been determined. Farewell. Your impact on my life is immeasurable, and I'll always be grateful for everything I learned during my time there.


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