In his latest column from Our Sunday Visitor, Monsignor Owen Campion explores what the Church…
Preparing to turn the page as graduation day approaches
For Christmas last year, my dad gave me a big, black, linen-covered photo album, and on the front is a picture of me as a newborn baby, legs as skinny as chicken bones, splayed out on a classic gold 1970s sofa that was unforgettably upholstered with something that, if memory serves, felt very much like an old burlap sack.
If I had to give a rough estimate, we have tens of thousands of photos in our house, most of which are unsorted either on a hard drive or the cloud or in albums stacked neatly in a closet. Few hang on the walls or reside in frames. But being the family’s principal photographer, I’m excluded from nearly all of them. But this new album is full of old photos almost exclusively of me.
It’s clear that Dad had carefully attempted to place all of the pictures in chronological order as best he could: me as a scrawny baby laying in my play pen (what they now call pack and plays); me with my older brother — before our sister came along — posing perfectly for the Sears photographer in our matching leisure suits with collars so big the should have come with landing gear; me as a toddler hunting for Easter eggs, riding my Big Wheel, blowing out birthday candles.
As I slowly turn the pages, I linger on each photo for a little while. I haven’t seen these pictures in years — decades, probably. I grow older with each turn of the page: me on the field at Notre Dame Stadium; me at the lake with my Papa, who passed away years ago; me sunburnt to a crisp standing in front of the Alamo; me playing baseball, basketball, football.
Each picture brings back a long-lost memory of my childhood. I pass through my middle-school years — vacationing with our family, posing with friends — and by the back of the album, I’m 18, no longer a boy, but not yet a man, wearing a cap and gown with my high school diploma in hand, smiling like I’d won the lottery. That was 26 years ago.
Now I have an 18-year-old of my own. Soon — too soon, really — my daughter will walk across the stage to receive her diploma. She’ll be headed to a college in the fall that is close enough for her mother and me to be happy but far away enough to begin a life — her life — on her own. As she prepares to graduate, and before she leaves home, I want to pass along a few things.
- Don’t take shortcuts. You’ve succeeded enormously by doing hard but fruitful work all of your life. Don’t stop now.
- Stay close to the Church. You have an amazingly strong faith; hold on to it. Stay spiritually nourished by participating in the sacraments that God has given us. Go to Mass. Go to confession.
- Find friends who will help you to grow in virtue. We know that you’re going to college and not the convent, but despite your best intentions, the habits of your friends will become your habits. Choose wisely.
- Enjoy yourself. Nearly every minute of how you spent your time in high school was decided for you — from going to school, to doing homework, to helping us with chores at home, games and practices and work. Study hard, but take time to learn more about who you are and what you like. You deserve it.
As I put my old photos back in the closet, I searched through the other albums on the shelf. I was in a mood to reminisce, and eventually I found the one I was looking for. Most of the photos are of my daughter when she was a baby. I found a rare one of me holding her, and I lingered on it awhile.
I was 25. I looked so young. My face and belly were thinner then; my hair less so. And as I held this beautiful baby girl in my arms, I smiled like I’d just won the lottery. Little did I know, I had.
Scott Warden is managing editor of Our Sunday Visitor.