I’ve written a fair number of words about my friend Father Dan Begin and have decided for various reasons to begin sharing them now and then. This one wasÂ mostly written a few years back, when this adventure occurred.
Â Â I just decide to give up control. Thatâ€™s all you can do.
Father Dan has purchased and distributed twenty ticketsÂ to see a production ofÂ The Wiz at Cleveland’s Near West Theatre. This is a small amateur program featuring regular kids from the city in high-quality productions. Itâ€™s my first visit to the theater, but Father Dan has taken people to Finianâ€™s Rainbow and other shows in the past. Driving home afterwards, my friend Leanne and I count up all the ways Father Dan has done good in this one evening.
Heâ€™s supporting a small, independent arts organization which helps kids and their neighborhood and the city of Cleveland.
Heâ€™s encouraging the two young peopleÂ we all know who are performing in the production.
Heâ€™s providing twenty parishioners and friends, a lovely multicultural group, a fun night out at his own expense.
He’s furnished a catered dinner (macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, fish, salad, peach cobbler) in the church rectory for everyone before the show, and in so doing patronizes another independent business.
He estimates that the evening costs him about $300. The showâ€™s tickets are only $8.00, a bargain for what turns out to be a great production. Father Dan doesnâ€™t earn much, but he saves for just such evenings as this, which he organizes periodically, and always has more fun than anyone else.
Not that the evening is without its stresses. While weâ€™re eating in the rectory before the show, he fields at least five phone calls from people who are meeting us at the theater (hence not eating the abundant food he has purchased). They all require directions to the theater. Itâ€™s on Clevelandâ€™s West Side, terra incognita to many of us East Siders. He cheerfully repeats the address and directions over and over, while heâ€™s eating, to caller after caller, sometimes repeating them patiently many times to the same person.
He hopes to leave early so that he can pick up the tickets and meet everyone at the theater whoâ€™s coming, but first the food has to be put away. He calmly begins covering the containers himself before others catch on and begin to help. One of the people whoâ€™s riding in our car dawdles. Although anxious to get going, Father Dan–Iâ€™m watching him carefully–shows no impatience.
At the theater box office, he chats cheerfully with the staff while collecting his twenty tickets. He passes them out to us whoÂ rode in the first car with him and asks that we save places in the theater for those coming up behind. We find seats in the filling auditorium and save a couple around us, and then I move up higher to save some more seats. Our folks begin to arrive, but they donâ€™t stay in the seats Iâ€™ve saved. They move to others in order to sit by friends. Iâ€™m feeling responsible and anxious. I can’t move, because what if our attendees arrive and there are no seats for them to sit together? I save some more seats, but our attendees continue to scatter hither and yon.
Just as the play is about to start, I move to my own seat, and Father Dan slides into his seat on the aisle. Frustrated with everyone–with their lateness and their darned independence about choosing their seats–I ask him if he ever gets annoyed about all the arranging.
â€œYeah, I hate that part of it,â€ he says matter-of factly. â€œI just decide to give up control. Thatâ€™s all you can do.â€ Then he laughs.
Right away, when the music begins, he turns and focuses completely on the stage. Every now and then throughout the evening, I glance to my left and see Father Dan grinning–not just for a moment or two, but almost continuously. Then, when the music turns serious, and a character is saying something wise, his face gets serious, too, and he actually nods. Unconsciously, automatically, he nods, completely immersed in the show, the music, and the moment.