The Girls from Viz

A couple years ago I read the description of a book entitled The Girls from Ames, an account of a group of women from Ames, Iowa, and their forty-year friendship. I have not yet managed to read the book, but its title has always put me in mind of a group of women whose multi-decade friendship with each other I have been privileged to witness for a number of years. In fact this friendship group is the most impressive one I have ever experienced at close range. In the manner of the book title referenced above, I think of them as The Girls from Viz. They are a group of women who attended Visitation Academy, an independent Catholic girls’ school in St. Louis, some years ago and who have remained bonded through thick and thin in the intervening decades. My wife Jan gratefully counts herself as one of these girls. While there have been several positive (concentric) circles of friendship in their class over the years, in my mind “the girls from Viz” refers to a core group of seven friends.

There has been an exquisite sadness in our household the last few days. Carol, one of the girls from Viz, died late last week. The grief is particularly telling since she is the first of the group to leave this world; something that seven women have counted on for many years is now changed forever. Carol was a multi-talented, passionate, creative, generous force of nature. A favorite poet of mine, Mary Oliver, posed a question in one of her poems that I ask myself repeatedly: Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Carol answered that question with great gusto and in multiple dazzling ways. During the years she lived with cancer, she continued to embrace her wild and precious life in inspiring fashion.

As I have reflected on this remarkable group of women in the days since Carol died, I have certainly been cognizant that these friends are not peas in a pod. Although each of them has been abundantly blessed in many ways, the life circumstances and challenges each has encountered over the years bear distinct differences. Although each of them has exhibited deep reservoirs of spirituality in the way each has lived, their religious practice and theological beliefs have certainly not been identical. Although each of them has lived a life of compassion and care for others, their political viewpoints have ranged across the spectrum (perhaps none more forcefully expressed than Carol’s).

So what is it that has glued this magnificent seven together over the years? Certainly the school community and environment they experienced together at Viz had to be an important factor in that cohesion. The school, perhaps in ways not clearly known or articulated, provided the girls from Viz the chance to plant the seeds of a deep, unbreakable, sisterly love- a love that lasted a lifetime for Carol. And I am certain that this love will endure for the lifetime of each of the girls from Viz who survive.

The girls from Viz have suffered a great loss, but I fully expect the survivors to continue to do what they have done for years. They will stay in close touch with one another, they will find ways to get together as often as they are able, they will lavish particular care on one of the remaining girls who faces serious health challenges of her own, and they shall not forget Carol’s children and grandchildren as they heal from the loss of their dear mother and grandmother.

School can be powerful incubators of lifelong friendships. Jan and Carol’s friendship in fact was born in their elementary school days. I want All Saints’ to be the type of place in which similar seeds of love that lasts a lifetime can be planted in the hearts of our students.

God bless Carol, God bless the girls from Viz, and God bless the girls and boys from All Saints’.

Until next time…

My best,
Leo

A Matter of Degrees

Late last month I had the opportunity to offer a few remarks to a small gathering sponsored by the National Association of Episcopal Schools (NAES) and the Southwestern Association of Episcopal schools (SAES) for newly appointed heads of Episcopal schools. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the group.

In my remarks I shared a few reflections about the rewards and challenges of school headship, particularly Episcopal school headship. One metaphor I used in my remarks to the group seemed to strike a chord with them. I noted that everyone knows how incredibly hot the Phoenix weather is in summer, but relatively few people know that the heat can be escaped in a rather short period of time (Arizona deserts and canyons are well known, our mountains not so much). I then told the heads about a recent trip Jan and I had made to our condo in the small town of Overgaard in Mogollon Rim country. When Jan and I left Phoenix late one Friday afternoon, the temperature was 107 degrees. As we enjoyed the distinctly Arizona sport of watching the external temperature gauge in our vehicle fall dramatically downward, we began to experience the change of pace and serenity that we sought in our weekend excursion. When we arrived in Overgaard a mere two and one-half hours after departing Phoenix, we had witnessed and now felt a temperature decline of 50 degrees- from 107 to 57!

My point in telling that story was to suggest to the heads that they need to devise reliable strategies to lower the temperature (i.e., stress levels) of their jobs effectively and healthily. I have learned this lesson in my own life over many years and with many false starts. Now, however, I find everything from family time to prayer to friendship to meditation to exercise to music to pleasure reading as important and healthy dimensions of my life no matter what tasks await me.

Learning how to lower the temperature of our lives is important for all of us, not just school heads. But I feel particularly graced that I spend my days at an Episcopal school. This morning witnessed a particularly sweet, touching, temperature-lowering, spirit-upraising moment when Luke, the child of one of our teachers, was baptized at our lower school chapel service. I have a busy day today, but I know I’ll be living it at a comfortable 57 degrees.

Until next time…

My best,
Leo