Friday, May 6, 2016

I’m Different, Deal With It!

Sister Paula Bingert, OSF, a long-time mentor, came
to celebrate my Mother Alfred Moes award
presented by the Joliet Franciscans last fall.
This Sunday, Mothers’ Day, I will spend time with a dozen women who influenced me at least as much as my beloved Mother who passed away 3 years ago May 9.

I’m back in Illinois for a few weeks, and that puts me in proximity of Joliet, where I spent my early - mid adult years. People often ask how the heck I landed in Joliet from Pompano Beach, FL, where I lived for most of my childhood. Their eyes want to roll when I say I was going to be a nun, specifically a Joliet Franciscan. You can read all about that and more in my book, Crossing the Line: Taking Steps to End Homelessness.

From the time I was in 3rd grade until I eked my way out of the College (now University) of St. Francisthe Joliet Franciscans were there to lend a hand in shaping my values. I guess they did a pretty good job considering they were working with a contrarian from early on who didn’t get too excited about academics.

Amazing to me, the Joliet Franciscans I’ll be hanging with on Mothers’ Day are all 80+, the oldest at 98, Sister Marie, my dreaded/respected high school principal. And I’m amazed they're excited about getting together with me.

I’ll share a bit of what I’ve been doing, maybe show them a couple of my short videos, the same ones I showed students at Cardinal Gibbons High School, my alma mater, a few weeks ago. And I’m pretty sure they’ll be proud of my HEAR US efforts, unique in the world of mainstream careers. Yeah, I’m different.

Differences seem to be an underlying theme in the news these days. Without rehashing the already hashed and smashed, I’d like to point out a few things that might cause some of you to squirm, and some of you to jump up and yell YES!

Anyone who knows me will agree that I’m not the paragon of fashion. Never have been. My wardrobe favors denim, cotton t-shirts and shoes that can tromp through mud with little damage. A few years ago, I figured out that my cell phone and wallet needed deeper pockets, so I explored men’s jeans. Viola! They look the same, and fit better, so that improved my simple life. 

Not one for frills, the unisex sweatshirts, tees, and mocs fit my preferences. With my big feet, size 11, I sometimes need to opt for innocuously styled men’s shoes. Whatever. 

It has a nothing to do with me wanting to be a man, but if it did, that’s my business. I’m sure people look at me and think I’m different. I am. And if that’s what people need to fret about, go ahead. I’ll try not to look at you and think you need to get a life. 

If nothing else, the HB 2 bathroom hoopla will edge us closer to the time we will not spend so much time focused on things we should have fixed decades ago when so many of our sisters and brothers are struggling to survive. 

My sister Sass, Mom in the middle, and me,
when the University of St. Francis bestowed an
award on me in 2006.
The underlying lesson my Mom and my many mentors have engraved in me: be yourself and use your gifts for good. They also encouraged me to not fear the naysayers in my quest for making a positive impact on our world. And woven through their influence, when you need to be a fierce warrior, don’t hold back.

I’m sure I’ll enjoy my visit with my mentors Sunday. They’re continuing to influence me, inspiring this missive and making me realize that I’ve been gifted more than I realize—a challenge to continually reflect on my journey to be my best self for the good of creation. I’m grateful for all who continue to touch my life, and hope that the next generations continues to sprout and nurture contrarians concerned with justice. We need you now more than ever!