A family orientation

Mar 18, 2006

Ira Glass last month talked about the storytelling talents of the rabbi at his family’s synagogue. “Rabbi … that’s the job—people sit and listen to you once a week,” he said, recalling how, as a boy, he marveled at the rabbi’s stories. As a veteran of This American Life, Glass returned to the synogogue and recognized that the rabbi’s storytelling gifts were based on an ages-old formula: tell a short anecdote, reflect on that part, then tell more of the plot, and relate that to something emotional.

Storytelling skills today are lacking, Glass suggested. “I blame the topic sentence.” That got a lot of laughs out of the crowd (an academic one, mind you, since we were gathered on the campus of UNC-CH).

When I was in high school, Father Schwartz captivated me with his homilies every Sunday. I would sit in the pew—we were always in one of the first five rows—and think about the role of priest and the opportunity to speak before a crowd each week. That is what most attracted me to the priesthood—that power of the pulpit.

Over the next few years, and into the first year of college, I moved closer and closer to joining the priesthood. I wanted to be a Franciscan; my namesake, Anthony of Padua, was a Franciscan. (My mom, pregnant with me, had to pray to St. Anthony, patron saint of lost causes, and bargained her car keys for the right to name me after the saint.)

But one thing always bothered me about the priesthood: celibacy.

After my sophomore year of college, I stayed on campus with a small group of other students, working as a new student orientation advisor. I had a blast that summer, and my coworkers became good and lasting friends. (I wrote about one memorable event from that summer here.)

Somehow, though, I’d missed the opportunity to sign up to work the annual reunion weekend. While my orientation colleagues worked the event, caring for the children of the returning alumni, I wandered around campus and Cleveland, lonely. One day, I passed a group of kids playing on JCU’s quad, and their laughter and fun, framed in the summer heat and afternoon sun and pampered lawn, hit me like a ton of bricks.

I walked back to my quiet dorm room, sat in my comfortable lounge chair, and stared at the brick wall, where I had a print of Picasso’s shadowy Don Quixote, which perfectly summed up my loneliness. I mulled on that, but not for long.

“I want children of my own,” I decided. “I want to be a family man.” Then and there, my desire to be a priest faded away. I felt a heavy burden lifted from my soul.

The next summer, in the same job, I met a young woman named Erin. When we had our first date a few weeks into the new semester, I knew I wanted to marry her.

It’ been nearly 15 years since then. This morning, as I raked the lawn in front of our home, our daughters played in the sunshine, and as I looked upon them, my story came full circle.

Anton Zuiker

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