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Art, Faith, Goodbyes and the Former Rich, Italian Party Boy

Missioners of FMS

Editor’s Note: Missioner in formation, Megan, reflects on her journey in DC so far and the places she’s found beauty “wherever it rests.”  

I have been thinking about the intersection of art and faith.

I’m wearing a new set of clothes. Bought some at the Goodwill. They fit great, and I love ‘em. But…they’re a different style and I feel awkward. 

Aren’t I the arts maven? The one who had a rocking wardrobe and six pairs of cowboy boots? The art historian who championed the local Baltimore art scene in vintage polka dots? The Peace Corps volunteer (Albania 2015-2017) in natty beret, leveraging culture for economic and community development? 

Or, as I tell my boss Emily, am I now an “out” Catholic? A women learning that her off-loading of possessions and income (sometimes on purpose, sometimes not) has been done before, back in the middle ages, with fierce intentionality (and much greater dispatch, I might add), by a former rich, Italian party boy turned saint who I’ve come to DC to study.

Saint Francis — the former rich, italian party boy

Since arriving in DC for Formation, I have a new routine. Wednesday mornings I volunteer at the Little Sisters of the Poor’s Jeanne Jugan House. The nuns have great volunteer management skills. “Put on a hairnet!” orders one, and I am off serving coffee at lunch, a fun, extroverted, slightly eccentric friend ready to chat with any and all.

I meet Nancy playing trivia with the gang in the acute unit. She guesses more of the dog breeds than anyone. Her bright mind is eroding and she knows it. It is heartbreaking to watch, but Nancy is also kind and curious. We get on well!

For lunch, Nancy is joined by two gal friends. One comes from a less acute unit to support her friend. After a chatty meal I ask if I can clear Nancy’s plate. She hesitates “Yes, except for this.” The “this” a small pile of baked beans she’s placed carefully—strategically–on top of her half ear of corn. Awkward silence. Her friends are super embarrassed. Their friend is doing nutty things with her food! Me? I pause. I am awed by Nancy’s creativity. “Nancy” I finally say “clearly you are thinking deeply about balance this afternoon.” She starts to smile. Her friends begin to giggle. Laughter erupts all around and I am cracking up so hard I can barely breathe. 

A week later, I go to the National Folk Festival in Salisbury Maryland. It has been almost five years since I left the Creative Alliance arts center in Baltimore, which I cofounded. My ears and soul are mad hungry to listen. The Maryland Traditions tent is a de facto Creative Alliance. My successor, Josh, is managing, our amazing sound techs, Adam and Natasha, are mixing, and “my” musicians, who I presented for years are on stage.

Arty Hill builds his warm, dusty honky-tonk country on deft songwriting while I’m in the second row with my buddy Adrianna. Arty kicks into “Leaving Highlandtown,” an angsty vision of loss, written when I first started presenting him, set in the neighborhood where the Creative Alliance had then just opened. Later, I wonder what he thought looking down from the stage to see me full on sobbing with Adrianna’s arm around me. It takes a long time to all the way say good-bye to lives we’ve lived and loved for decades. 

I am now, as jazz talent Lafayette Gilchrist put it that afternoon, “in the God business.” As I steadily pull every shred of that bushel basket away from my light, I know that in my new business, as in my old, my light will always find beauty where ever it rests, whether twanging loud and proud from a stage, or perching delicately on a cooling ear of corn. 

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