Last month we talked a lot about SUPERDANCE and it got me thinking about the serendipitous power of life. At this year’s assembly as I sat amongst the audience hearing the words people would speak, feeling their personal experience, and learning what CF has represented in their lives – the many moments that have led to where I am in my life appeared before me like a slideshow. If I was a cartoon character I would have had a big lightbulb appear above my head. All these little patterns or unique coincidences that were going on all the time! These moments have led me exactly to the life I now lead…..Right where I am supposed to be! Today I wanted to share a few of this ah-ha moments. So grab a quick coffee, because away we go!
The 2016 assembly focused on O’Connell’s beloved Msgr. James McMurtrie. The principle of DJO for a number of years and one of the champions to get the SUPERDANCE started. He was a good friend to Maura O’Donnell and her family, dedicating himself to fighting for a cure- and ultimately bestowing the same goal on O’Connell. To this day, his estate still has directions to be one of the first donations to the dance each year.
Fast forward a few years and Msgr. was the pastor of the first Catholic Church in Ashburn. At the time our little town was set in the middle of nowhere with just trees, deer, and a few homes to make up the neighborhood…. But he came along and would be the one to build the Catholic Community I grew up in – Saint Theresa. Msgr. was a special friend to our family and I had equal parts fear and admiration/respect/love for him. A gruff personality – yet such kind eyes, unique sense of humor (at least to my kiddo self)but an infectious laugh, and a personality that could put people off , but the power to motivate and mobilize. It has been decades and yet I still remember his “hugs” grabbing us in the crook of his elbow around our neck… Not the most comfortable, yet you were grateful to be selected as the focus of his attention for moment. Msgr. had one rule: we were to go to O’Connell. No ryme or reason… We all knew he had spent years working there- and now I know the millions of things he could have said to motivate people to heed this advice and attend this life changing institution …. yet he never uttered a word or offered an explanation – a simple “just go there” to persuade us.
Well that is all it took for me! There were three primary Catholic High Schools that we’re an option for us Saint Theresa school kids. My parents pressed that I really consider them all- but no way! My heart was set…. And in the end – even if my decision effected all the rest of my siblings to follow- they agreed to slow the search and we all would become Knights!
For Danny the story of his attending O’Connell is not quite so poetic. There were of course little signals- his mom had gotten to know Msgr. through the CF Community and she had been to many a SUPERDANCE event years before – but Danny would most likely go where his brother had gone, the local public school.. That was until a local school crime issue and private school became the preferred option. So they looked at PVI (DJO’s rival- BOOOOO!!!), since his cousin had gone there. But getting there was a little harder – and Dan’s neighbors went to O’Connell….. So carpool built in! And with that, he became a Knight.
During the first half of Dan’s time at O’Connell, he was often working on an exit plant. Finding good friends had been a little harder… And he just didn’t always feel connected. But O’Connell had hockey… no public school had that…. So he stayed. And by the time Junior and Senior year rolled around, Danny had met his best friends (still the same ones as today) and O’Connell was home.
As a young Knight, during the first SUPERDANCE Assembly I ever attended I had no idea what to expect. Later it struck me how odd it was that some how this event really had been kept quiet, so when freshman would learn about it for the first time that day, you would be struck by its powerful message. As I sat in my chair in the upper balcony, where all freshman sit, who should appear on that stage but Msgr. McMurtire! Carrying with him an older looking tape recorder. He spoke about the dance, how it got started and his role, and then he played the words on that tape. From that moment my heart was forever dedicated as both a Knight and a crusader for the cure. As the rest of the assembly wore on I was mesmerized by the stories…. What these poor CF patients would go through and their families. I feared that my little sniffles and the tears rolling down my face would be met with weird glances from my classmates- but I could not tear my eyes away from the stage to see who might be looking. The speakers, the stories- I wouldn’t want to miss a thing! So instead I just sat a little lower in my chair, pulled my uniform collar up and began to pray. I prayed for those patients and their families….I said prayers of thanks for how incredibly blessed I was to be at a school that wanted to cure this terrible ailment- a disease i had only just heard of, yet I was determined to find how to erradicate! The passion of the seniors leading this effort (one of the main ones being none other than-Dan’s carpool…) was incredible- I was captivated by their incredibly hard work putting the assembly on and their endless energy for this dance!! As we walked out of the auditorium in a state of surprise and I remember thinking how quiet it was for a group of hundreds of high schoolers- I said my final prayer of thanks that my birthday was in March and I could use my birthday money to help meet this year’s donations goal.
A quick side note- I always meant to write our principle, Mr. Burch, a letter telling him of the powerful experience I had that day and how amazing it was that he led a school of kids so passionate to want to help. I never did and now he is no longer with us…. Don’t ever get distracted from those ideas… They are good ideas.
My junior year, l learned of a student who went there that had CF. He was a senior- but I figured must be a quieter kid or one that is not as well known- because how would we all not know who it was!! Someone said Danny Bessette… I thought the hockey player??? No way…. The only thing that guy suffered from was a potential hangover after the basketball game I saw him attend with some buddies (I can see him clumping up those gym bleachers with timberland boots mostly undone… Dark jeans…. Dark shirt…. With a mischievous smile… As I cheered with my squad on the sidelines-which had to have been my freshman or sophomore year, as I only cheered then). Low and behold it was him…. And at the moment I began to understand the confusion of what a life with CF can bring. That year – Dan’s senior year – they dedicated the 2002 SUPERDANCE to him.
The next year was my senior year. As treasurer of the school I was in charge of several SUPERDANCE committees and ran the whole dance with the Student Body Executive Board – who happened to be three of my best friends! These three have been life changing influences and people that I love and continue to support me all the time- Sean, Libby and Lola. That year meant so much to the four of us and we loved O’Connell so dearly. I wonder if the fact that Sean had been at Saint Theresa with me and that Libby and Lola had attended Holy Spirit – where Msgr. has also been pastor- had anything to do with it? Crazy huh?
Each year every set of seniors wants to make their SUPERDANCE the best! Raise the most money, have the strongest attendance -it is incredible how we all come together to make the goals a reality. My first lessons in volunteer management and real life came from that year … And funny enough- that has become my real life career! So of course I wanted to raise as much money as I could!! Normally my parents don’t allow us to reach out to my extended family for donations. There are 23 cousins and if we all asked everyone to buy cookies, donate to runs, order wrapping paper it would be crazy!! But this year- being my senior year- my mom said she would allow it if I wrote a letter and did not pressure, but actually explained my request. Well I did and my family first learned of CF that year in a bigger way… We even handed out old SUPERDANCE tshirts at Christmas, since the school has so many, and it was part of my job as student council to help clean out storage. Yup- all my extended family joined our community of Knights and would start our family battle against CF.
To this day their fighting has not stopped. My siblings give… My uncle’s swim team has held fundraisers for CF and Danny’s COTA fund….. My sister, Bridget, has asked on several birthday occasions (as young as 10!!) for no gifts just SUPERDANCE donations. This year with Bridget so involved my family has spent extra time at O’Connell and I always think how they may feel new to the halls or sports fields…. But they have been Knights for years!
Fast forward to my senior prom. As with most proms, the fun was absolutely more about the prep then the dance experience itself. The dress…. The hair… The nails…. Where we would take pictures. For me, it got a little crazy with who was invited to ride in whom’s limo or who sat at what dinner table. I got to a point of just over it and said anyone who wanted to avoid the dramatics could ride with me! And low and behold, my good friend Atheni decided to join our laid back group with her date, Danny Bessette. Danny would also end up needing a ride to the place where we were taking the pictures, so he could leave his car where the limo would eventually leave us…. So my parents and high school boyfriend and I gave him a ride. My mom was so impressed with how healthy he looked and both my parents commented about how polite and friendly a kid Danny was. They both hinted that I should keep an open mind about dating and not stay with he same person always….so I could meet other people like Danny when starting college in the fall….. open mind was kept!
Later that summer my mom learned about Juice Plus and could not stop thinking of how it would help Danny. My freshman year of college she brought it up again suggesting I share with Danny, since I had heard he was in the hospital. Well I got my courage up to AIM him, while sitting at my desk in my freshman dorm. I can still see the view out my little dorm window that my desk sat directly below – hearing the sounds of instant messenger from thought the surrounding dorms. And from there we would start our closer friendship.
As we chatted more that year, I bought Danny a get well card. Trying so hard to find the perfect words for someone who will never ever really “get well”….. And never really be healed …. I landed upon the one with a turtle who was on his back and it said “Hope your back on your feet soon”….. That worked! My second lesson in the elusive nature of CF.
It was two summers later that we would start dating and the story as you all know it continues from there. Moments that are so unpredictable…. So very unplanned…. some details that don’t even really seem connected…..Have somehow come together to create the perfect plan for our lives, His plan. As you all know a walk down memory lane is one of my favorites…. this time reflecting on these moments has meant so much more! Seeing God’s hand so perfectly guiding these moments…. During this assembly I was overcome by His power and the sense of peace that all will be as it should- better than I could have even predicted for the future, because it is with God’s plan.
Maybe writing is not your thing (perhaps after this novel, reading isn’t your thing anymore either) or perhaps pictures aren’t at your finger tips, memories may be starting to fade…. Either way this exercise of reflection and recognition of where you once were and where it can lead you is both powerful and comforting. Even if your in a season of life you don’t understand- imagine the possibilities that could exist as a result. Thank you so much for joining me on my little journey today and I hope you find some time to take a trip of you own!
Thank you for reading and remember to make it a great day!