In the summer of 2000, two fourteen-year-old kids got thrown together on one of those ragged, sweaty, summertime basketball teams inhabited by incoming freshmen. The two of us were not so dissimilar. Tall, and skinny in the way that only teens and ultra-marathoners can be, we both dashed around the court with the frenetic gawkiness of those still struggling to master our suddenly unwieldy appendages. Over the next couple days of wind sprints and free throws, I learned that, beyond the friendly confines of the Catholic rec-league in which I’d played, there were athletes who possessed coordination, vision, and that ever-so-elusive quality called by the observant: “talent.” I also learned that this guy was going to be my friend.
It’s a friendship that has lasted over a decade, one that takes its place on the shortlist of friendships that define a life.
Twelve years later, this time on a dreary autumnal day, I burst into a gorgeous old church – late for my friend’s wedding rehearsal. (And what is more, pretty damn disturbed that I had apparently forgotten how to navigate the city in which I’d grown up.) The rehearsal marked the official beginning of his wedding weekend. I took it as a chance to celebrate one of my oldest friends.
We began by asking the same questions everybody asks when they get together with old friends:
Do you like the job? Are you seeing anyone? How’s the city?
But when the whirlwind of reintroduction had been calmed our conversations gave way to unrestrained nostalgia.
Do you remember when…? Whatever happened to…? I’d forgotten about…!
But this was a wedding weekend, which means that the conversation inevitably and rightly turned to the couple. Over and again, you could hear, amidst the reintroductions and the nostalgia, their names. And, as I listened to us talking, it seemed like their names were often partnered with phrases like these:
They’re such a great couple. They’re so good together. They seem so happy.
Everybody said it; I said it. I said it to friends just after telling jokes (many of which were at the groom’s expense). I said it as I hugged his parents, who had opened their house and hearts to a crowd of idiotic high school kids years ago. And I said it to my friend:
She’s wonderful. You two are so good together. It makes my heart glad to see you two so happy.
We said it because weddings – the whole weekend of events that composes them as well as the sacrament itself, I mean – are about the couple. I know it’s obvious all written out like that. But it really is. And this “about” happens all in the midst of the laughter and memories, the toasts and storytelling; the joy of a whole community gathering together around two people to build them up with love.
I’m glad we took advantage of it. Because these moments when things are about us come fewer and farther between as we get older, and that’s okay. And we carpe diem-ed this one. The opportunity to let my friends know of our love did not slip by unnoticed.
Behind the congratulations, compliments, and well-wishes, behind the offhand remarks about how happy the couple looked, was a simple message: We believe in you two. We believe in each of you individually, and we especially believe in you together. That’s why we gathered from around the country to applaud you in church and celebrate with you after. We believe that what you’re doing is good and beautiful. It is – dare I say it? – holy.1
Out of any number of inaccessible, alienating, just plain confusing words in the Christian glossary, “vocation” has to be up there with the worst of them. Simple rule: if you have to explain a word’s Latin root, you’re probably going to have about as much success as Gretchen had in Mean Girls with making “fetch” happen. That said, here’s my Gretchen impression: the Latin root of “vocation” is “vocare,” it means “to name, to summon, to call,” which is precisely what we were there to do. We were there to name what we saw in front of us: a couple called to live their lives together. We were there to summon them into an even deeper union. And it was very, very good.
I suppose that what we did is near the heart of vocation – when we think about it in that sometimes inaccessible, Christian-y, Latin-y way. We stood in community and called someone to live the wild, holy life that they were made for.
But say vocation language turns you off (and fair enough, I say), there’s an easier way to describe what we did that weekend. We stood there and told our friends that we love them, that they have a great adventure ahead of them, that we think they can do it, and that we’ll be there for them.
If vocation is a weird way to describe that, then… I guess you could just call it being a friend.
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