My senior high school English teacher, arguably one of the most influential teachers of my life, passed away last night of bone cancer. Thanks to old friends and acquaintances from school, via Facebook I was aware of his illness many weeks ago, but was still knocked down by the news given just moments ago. I had the pleasure of not only being his student at John F. Kennedy High School, but also working with him in educational outreach at the Seattle Opera and performing in his production of The Mikado at the new Savoy Opera back when I was a college undergrad. I studied great works of literature because of him. Hell, I saw Wager because of him...all four nights of Der Ring des Nibelungen! How many 17 year olds do you know who can find an interest in that, if it weren't for someone influential pulling gently on the reigns?
What is it about our most influential teachers, in any discipline, that reaches not only those parts of us which are affected by the material they teach, but extends subtle tendrils which reach into our souls, and creates lasting memories and aftershocks of effects which last us all our lives? Perry Lorenzo was one of those teachers in my life, and I will be praying for his family and friends closest to him tonight, and meditating on his effect on me and others in my graduating class (and surely far beyond) in the coming days.
In the meantime, I want to share a piece of what made Perry such a beautiful human being, spiritually and intellectually. A prayer request letter written on the Catholic and Enjoying It blog, which for me beautifully illustrates a man of passion for his work, and depth of commitment to his faith. (to see more of Perry's writing about art and life, visit his blog at http://perrylorenzo.blogspot.com/, and there is an article from Sunset onoline about his work with students and opera at http://www.sunset.com/travel/northwest/hooked-on-opera-00400000018940/
"And finally, Perry Lorenzo, who is one of Seattle treasures both as a Catholic and as a fine teacher on practically everything to do with the Western tradition, but especially opera and the Catholic faith, writes:
Dear friends in the Lord,
I have a degenerative bone cancer in my left shoulder, as well as dormant cancers in all my lung lobes. I am going through radiation and MRIs and tests and scans at present, and soon we will be determining a future path of treatment.
This has not in the least diminished my faith, in fact only strengthened it. My prayer is that God heal me so that I can return to performing my vocation of education and teaching and music; if God will not at present quickly heal me, I pray that I can give the best witness of love, gift, and beauty to other people. In the spirit of Pope John Paul II. Please pray for me in that way, if you wish: or in any way you like...
I think that this experience of cancer, medicine, and treatment is quite profound. It does not at all alter what we all already know about ourselves--that we are created by God, that as creatures we are limited and dependent and mortal, that suffering is inevitable, and that we will die. These are all facts, whether we are diagnosed with a disease or not. However, the experience of a cancer, such as I am now going through, is simply an intensification of my awareness of this fact. I know, in a deep way, that I am created, mortal, and live every day in the face of death. The real issue is the how of facing death: and I need your prayers to face death--or serious illness and recovery--in a spirit of faith, hope, love, joy, gratitude, and most of all GIFT. God has given me my life, and I want to give it all back to Him, for it is His anyways; in giving it all to Him, I want to love Him and love my neighbor, to return to my vocation or to use what time is remaining as a Gift of sharing God's beauty with other people.
I keep a long list of people to pray for daily, as Im sure many of you do too! Please keep me in your prayers!
If you would like to pray to the Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, please do so. Newman inspires me to be a Christian Roman Catholic intellectual in the modern world, dedicated to education and the Gospel. Blessed John Henry Newman, pray for me.
A stanza of the poem The Wreck of the Deutschland by Gerard Manley Hopkins, from Perry's blog, about knowing death is an inevitability:
"Some find me a sword; some
The flange and the rail; flame,
Fang, or flood’ goes Death on drum,
And storms bugle his fame.
But wé dream we are rooted in earth—Dust!
Flesh falls within sight of us, we, though our flower the same,
Wave with the meadow, forget that there must
The sour scythe cringe, and the blear share come."