Yesterday, August 24th, marked a sad anniversary: one year since the world was deprived of the life of Joe Maneri.
Joe left the world a more impoverished place and left a hole in my life that could be patched but never filled. But despite Joe's departure (or because of it? It would be like him to be pulling some strings Up There!), the riches that have appeared in my life this past year have been astonishing. Indeed, as I looked back, I had to stop and think, "Did all that really happen within 365 days?"
A year ago I was unemployed. Now I have two jobs, each one a "dream job" in a completely different way. MIT and Christ Lutheran Church in Natick, Massachusetts – two remarkable places with remarkable clergy and remarkable potential both to use the skills I already have and to stretch myself to develop new skills. I wasn't the first person in the 2,000-year history of the Catholic Church to note that denomination's knack for mystery and deceit where truth and honesty are instead appropriate. I prayed to find a job where (a) the boss was honest; and (b) I could use my gifts. I found not one but two such appointments. The hardest part has been to convince myself that I'm actually working, such has been my happiness in these two positions.
The relationships I have forged with people this past year have been equally remarkable. I have friends that I cannot believe I have known less than one year. They "get me" in a way that I've rarely been "gotten."
And then there's the small matter of a baby named Matteo Giovanni Ciampa. He is my third child, my wife's first. At 3.5 weeks of age, he at times behaves like an infant weeks, if not months, his senior. It's too early to tell if he will have a sense of humor, but if he goes in the direction of his two older brothers, I can soon expect hilarity in triplicate. (Sometime this past year, I asked my three-year-old, Federico, "Are you the best boy in the whole world?" He replied, "Flattery will get you nowhere.")
I telephoned Sonja Maneri on this sad anniversary. She shared with me a poem that has been helping her get through these difficult days:
NOT IN VAIN
by Emily Dickenson
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain:
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
Neither Joe nor Sonja have lived in vain. In fact, between them they have patched more breaking hearts and eased more pain than a squadron of theologians.