I recently was back to my hometown for a family visit. In between the social gatherings, I had time to drive around and check out the old town, the places where I grew up and, for better or worse, started learning the first of many lessons about life and getting by in this world.
Our old house is still standing and occupied. I do not know who lives there. Some years back, my sisters rang the doorbell, introduced themselves and were invited in. They told me that there were a lot of changes.
I guess I like to remember things as they were. I got out of the car and took a few pictures and let it go at that.
No one still lives on our street from the old days. Over the years, everyone has moved on. I could not help but look at the houses that lined the street, remembering who lived there, what they looked like, and the various styles of life each family embodied.
It was a mixed street ethnically and religiously. A real mixed bag. But when we were kids that did not amount to anything. We all got along, played with each other and in each other's homes.
I noticed a lot of changes about town. A train now can take you from the Bay Street Station right to New York's Penn Station. The area around that station has drastically improved, due to the new rail connection.
When I lived there, there were a lot of run down houses and shabby apartments. All that has given way to new townhouses and condominiums.
Everything looks clean and new. Men and women, smartly dressed for a day's work in Manhattan, stood at the platform in the mornings, waiting for the train to New York.
The church I attended, Immaculate Conception, looked to be in good shape but I was told that the congregation has shrunk. When we were kids, it was not uncommon for families of seven or more kids to move to the town. These days, families are much smaller and the town is not as affordable as it was in the old days.
The same is true of the parish where I was last assigned, which is in the same town. Mount Carmel Parish is near the train station and even though more young people have moved to that area, church attendance has declined greatly, due to the passing of the older people and the lack of interest on the part of the young when it comes to institutionalized religion.
I had dinner one night with three guys with whom I went to grammar school. It was a wonderful evening -- I felt my past alive in them, as we talked over old times. They shared with me the ups and downs of family life and I told them as much as I could about the monastery.
When I returned here, I found myself looking back gratefully to that evening, to the goodness of my three friends. I feel they are a living part of me. Speaking with them helped me recover something from the past, something that cannot be had through a photograph or a daydream.
When I returned here, I thought of Luke, who recently celebrated his 100th birthday. There was a big party and I heard all about it, how good it was and how people came from all over the place to share with him his big day.
Luke has seen changes beyond measure in this life, but I sense he takes it all in stride, now. He is much at peace and seemingly lets things come and go in life.
I guess he has reached a point where he knows that we cannot ever hold on to anything for keeps. It all goes. But we stay, helping each other through the changes, through the cycles of change that are life itself.
A belated happy birthday, Luke. I look at you and see the marvels of transformation, change and openness to the future.
And I thank you, my friends back home. There have been many changes there, too. But we can and will get together again, and let the changes take what they must, and yet we shall laugh and reminisce, and ride the days yet to come.
Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Highway 212 S.W., Conyers. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.