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Accidentally blessed

Gabriela Leskur | Wednesday, August 21, 2013

There are times when all of us feel happiness is just out of reach. This summer, as I traveled on tour with the Notre Dame Folk Choir through the Northeast, I discovered that hope is never truly lost and joy can always be found, even in the most unlikely of places.

I auditioned for Folk Choir during study days last spring by some act of divine intervention. Freshman year, I went to Mass rarely. I never once attended the Folk Choir Mass on Sundays. But I wanted to audition.

I remember being a kid and visiting Notre Dame and going to 9 p.m. Mass in the Basilica and hearing the Folk Choir sing. I remember thinking back then, “I’m going to be up there someday.”

I felt I owed it to my little self to audition.

However, the true reason I wanted to audition was far more in the here and now. I knew people in Folk Choir. They had this sense of joy and peace that I had been lacking in my first year away from home. I wanted to find faith again. I wanted to find myself. And I felt Folk Choir was a way to do that.

Little did I know, I would be welcomed with open arms by Steve Warner, the Folk Choir director, and given the opportunity to go on tour with the choir only one week after I finished my finals.

I did not know the repertoire. I did not know the people. I did not know what I was getting myself into. And yet, I went along for the ride from Indiana all the way to New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

What happened over the next two weeks changed my life.

The true story of this trip has very little to do with me.

On this tour, I met people who had every reason to lose hope. I met people who had every reason to let themselves give in to sadness and to despair. And these people, despite all their reasons, were some of the most joyful, hopeful people I have ever met.

The members of the Folk Choir took me under their wings immediately. I had many bus buddies with whom I shared lengthy, heart-felt conversations. It became clear to me that even us bright-eyed kids with the unwavering smiles have cried, have felt hope slip through our fingers.

Part of growing and maturing requires solitude, reflection and sometimes isolation. But another part requires faith that although the road might be bumpy, the destination will be well worth it.

One destination that was well worth the trip was Newtown, Conn.

I stayed with a family there for three days. The dad and the son were full of wit and biting sarcasm – my favorite type of people – and the mom was one of the sweetest people I have ever met. By the end of my stay, I really felt as if they were my family.

I talked with them about the tragedy that occurred in Newtown. One thing they made very clear to me is that Newtown is a place full of joy. With a general store and a movie theater and a prominent flagpole at the center of town, Newtown is a picturesque small community where they felt they could give their kids a good childhood.

Despite what appears on the national news, Newtown is not defined by the tragedy that occurred there. The residents of Newtown are not defined by one act of violence, by one day of terror or by the cruelty of one man.

They are defined by their strength, their resiliency, and their love. They are defined by how they joined together when tragedy was threatening to tear them apart.

At Sunday Mass as Folk Choir sang with the choir of Saint Rose of Lima Parish, I felt truly humbled to join with this wonderful community in praise.

Throughout the rest of the tour, I saw similar displays of strength, of hope, of joy.

I saw it in the people of the Jersey Shore who converted their church into a temporary shelter for those who had lost their homes to Hurricane Sandy. I saw it in the children of Harlem whose parish was under threat of closing but who sang with a hope and a joy that brought me to tears. I saw it in the people of Boston who were still healing from their own deadly tragedy.

When I returned to South Bend after my two weeks journeying, I truly felt that I had returned from a spiritual pilgrimage. I had visited sacred sites and had been blessed by the most amazing individuals.

“What’s at the core of the Folk Choir is unabashed joy – and if anything is going to bring people back to faith, it’s joy,” Steve Warner said. “Joy also connotes sorrow, because learning to laugh and love deeply also means learning to grieve deeply.”

As I laughed and cried and loved and grieved on tour, I found hope and joy around every corner – and best of all, I found faith.

Contact Gabriela Leskur at gleskur@nd.edu