“I thought about him every day for eighteen years,” she said. “And we may have been a little delayed, but now, it feels just perfect.”
My flight was delayed 45 minutes. Moments before the delay was announced, I was sprinting through the Chicago Midway Airport, backpack bouncing wildly across my shoulders. I was all but desperate to be in line at gate B23, but then a tinny loudspeaker voice gave me the gift of time. A long day at work, a stressful standing-room only train ride, traversing moving walkways and dodging little girls dragging pink princess roller bags – all of it stopped. A 45-minute delay. What to do with 45 minutes?
It was St. Patrick’s Day. So I made a beeline for a bar and ordered a Guinness.
The bar was awash with weary travelers. As a table opened up, the bartender handed me an overflowing glass. I carefully balanced the full, black pint in hand while I collected my bag and made for a stool. Another couple had the same idea – Jen and Jack. “Let’s sit together,” they said, smiling.
Jen and Jack were 40 and 39, respectively, and they were engaged to be married. “Destination wedding,” they told me. “Cancun. Too old to get married anywhere cold.”
“How did you meet?”
They met eighteen years ago at a bar they both frequented. As it turns out, they were engaged once before. She broke it off – the struggles of single motherhood were substantial, and she didn’t know how to accept the love that Jack offered. “I didn’t think I deserved it,” she said after a painful moment of pause.
Both of them got married to other people – “a–––––––,” as Jack described them. Jen and Jack both admit, though, that they somehow thought of each other every day for eighteen years. Both got divorced from those a––––––– and then, one night, Jen sent Jack a Facebook message. She mentioned that he had popped into her mind and wondered whether they might meet up. They did, and after a year-and-a-half Jen and Jack were engaged again. A Mexico-bound marriage in the making. They weren’t ready for their love long ago, but it lingered through memory and time. Delayed, but not abandoned.
The first time I considered the Catholic priesthood was on the heels of a service trip I made between my junior and senior year of high school. A young priest – Fr. John – accompanied our group on that retreat, and during the closing Mass, he swore in the middle of the homily. The word began with ‘s’ and ended with a hit right to my gut. I thought – if this guy can swear during a homily, then maybe one day I will too. I saw myself in him somehow, and not only in his use of curse words. He was passionate and happy. I wanted those things.
Thoughts of the priesthood lingered in some way every day. During my senior year of college, I seriously considered applying to the Jesuits. But, in my quietest, purest moments, I doubted my value and I didn’t feel worthy of the call. At my loudest moments, I was scrambling to write papers, going to meetings, drinking, smoking cigarettes, and building an incapacity to think ahead and decide anything. So, I moved on to almost eight years of other stuff. Daydreams of the priesthood remained – eight years of challenging relationships, survival on an educator’s salary, even moments of doubt about whether or not God existed at all.
And one day, after a bright moment amidst work-related exhaustion, I returned to my office and made a call. I realized, somehow, that if I didn’t pursue the priesthood, I’d never be happy. Half-a-year after that, my parents dropped me off at the side door of my first Jesuit community. “It’s about time,” my dad told me just before he and my mother drove away the next day. A call to love delayed for years.
Why not make big life decisions right away? Jen and Jack could have married each other years ago, a house, kids, and joint savings account taken care of. I could have entered the seminary after high school and been ordained a priest at age 26. But that’s not how it happened. There we were at an Irish airport bar, I a priest-in-training and they engaged to be married for the second time. Everything delayed.
Perfect callings in life don’t reveal themselves perfectly. We usually don’t allow them to. We get in the way of that perfection, that goodness – we fight against it, we doubt it, we run as far away as we can, and only after it has worn us down for years and years and years do we come to realize its possibility and and its truth.
“Sometimes, I feel like we missed out,” Jack said. “But mostly, I’m glad to be where I am now, her hand in mine. It’s just right.”
Two more pints and 45 minutes later, I said goodbye to them and headed for gate B23. A bit delayed, sure – but, I still ended up where I was supposed to be.