I recently played a part, and played some music, in a theatrical adaptation of The Passion that ran twice at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Judique on Good Friday.
One of our last rehearsals took place on the final Sunday evening of March, just over 24 hours after Washington, D.C. and over 800 other metropolitan areas around the world were transformed by the March For Our Lives, a student-driven response to the string of school shootings that befouled the United States in the first two months of 2018.
We had a brief bit of down time in-between runs of the show, so I sat at my keyboard and absent-mindedly started playing my favourite Beatles song.
“Is that ‘Penny Lane’?”
I looked up to find one of our younger cast members, in costume as a centurion, standing in front of me with a smile on his face. Even in the digital era, where access to a 50-year-old music catalogue is only a mouse-click away, I was caught off guard by the concept that a tenth-grade student would recognize “Penny Lane.”
This wasn’t our first conversation. A week before our official show night, he overheard me talking in St. Andrew’s vestry about my time in the King’s College School of Journalism and asked me about the Halifax campus, which he’s interested in attending in a few years.
Other high school students were a part of The Passion, including two young women who played witnesses testifying in Caiaphas’ court. The actor playing Jesus wasn’t much older, but at 24 he’s already a gifted thespian and musician. (I found him playing my keyboard midway through that same rehearsal night. He started with an arrangement of the closing number, “10,000 Reasons,” before shifting to – of all things – a Judas Priest song.)
Earlier in the day, before heading to Judique, I lent a hand to the intergenerational gatherings that have been taking place at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Port Hawkesbury. They’re mainly aimed at students from Grades 5-8 but they’re designed to involve parents and grandparents as well. It’s a much-needed middle-school program for the Catholic Church and I’m glad to be a part of it.
Not long after I arrived home, I got a call from a graduate of the Christian youth ministry that Cathy used to oversee in Port Hawkesbury. We met her for lunch on our last trip to Halifax, and now she’s starting a new adventure in Saint John. Cathy and I are incredibly grateful that this talented, thoughtful young woman still values our friendship and guidance to this day.
Shortly after I finish writing this column, we’re going to meet another graduate of the same Christian youth program for lunch. He’s home for Easter and he wanted to get together with us. Like the young woman I just mentioned, he’s passionate about music and has happily hauled out his guitar and sang his favourite songs at fundraisers, variety shows and coffee houses in Port Hawkesbury and Judique. These days he’s in northern Ontario, training to become a mechanic for military aircraft.
I could go on about the teenagers and young adults that Cathy and I have been fortunate enough to have in our lives these days. (I haven’t even mentioned her volunteer work with the Port Hawkesbury Girl Guides, or the piano students I’ve started taking in since January, who range in age from eight to 17.)
The reason I’m bringing up the stories of these young people is this: They’ve already done remarkable things in their past and present. But they also deserve a future. More to the point, they deserve to be OUR future.
The 1,846 people killed in America’s 1,608 mass shootings over the past five years weren’t so lucky. Many of them are condemned to merely be part of a sobering statistic about the accessibility and deadliness of high-powered assault weapons, and the cowardice of America’s elected officials in terms of standing up to the likes of the National Rifle Association.
But brighter numbers emerged on March 24, as protests spanning six continents showed that the world’s youth are no longer going to accept the platitudes, selfishness and hypocrisy of older generations. In the U.S., where survivors of the Valentine’s Day shooting in Parkland, Florida have become the catalysts for change, a minimum of 1.2 million and a maximum of two million people took to the streets, making it one of the largest single-day protests in American history.
Every single child, teenager and young adult I’ve mentioned in this column deserves the future these brave teenagers are seeking. And so do the rest of us – which is why they have my gratitude, now and always.