When I first met Joey Laythe, At Carroll College Freshman orientation in the fall of 1983, I didn’t like him.
He was loud, he was brazen, he was funny and he had more energy than I did.
Because I, too, am loud and brazen and funny.
Later, we became pretty good friends. I would say, that we learned- as all friends do- to join forces.
We had some pretty good times at Carroll College. In particular, was the time Joey almost got us arrested. Another was when he threw a paper airplane in Fr People’s class when Sr Mary Sarah Fasenmeyer fell asleep during Fr People’s tenure check. Behind her head. Right at me.
While she was sleeping.
But I digress.
Joey annoyed me. And I’m pretty sure I annoyed him. Because we were a lot alike.
And I think we really only realized it a few years ago.
Thanks, Mark Zuckerberg.
Joe supported me through a really weird time in my life, so I figured it was the least I can do to be here, when he asked me in October.
We saw the world in much the same way. We saw the world as a place in need of education, in need of healing- in need of love. In need of kindness and understanding. That is the pinnacle of my faith- and we connected there.
Neither of us would happily put up with willful ignorance. Neither of us could put up with injustice.
Neither of us could stand idly by when people were being injured, manipulated or exploited.
We mutually liked every Facebook post the other made.
These are the human ties that aren’t maybe created through birth, or circumstance, but by common purpose.
We had some of the same mentors at Carroll- some of the most formative years of my life- John Downs, Fr. Gene Peoples, and although I never took a class from him Dr Robert Swartout- a man who inspired generations of historians. And someone who especially inspired Dr Joseph Laythe- to be a teacher, an academic, and a good human being. They all did. That was the magic of Carroll for me. We were surrounded by exceptional human beings with great hearts- who inspired us to be exceptionsal human beings-stretch ourselves beyond the obvious into eternity.
All I ever wanted was to be a priest. All Joe ever wanted was to be a teacher. A funny, irrepressible academic with the heart to change the manner in which his students would perceive the world around them. And the brilliant brain to teach them the facts that motivated his heart. Along the way, he added some additional wants- being a husband to Chris and a father to Lydia and Izzy.
This was his world.
And now, it’s ours.
“We all have a story. If you’re not friends with your mailman, you’re missing something”- John Downs.
“Jesus was the ultimate example of powerless love”- Fr. Gene Peoples.
I hold these things close in my life today. For me, it’s what Christianity boils down to.
Jesus rejected the love of power for the power of love. He spent time with the small people of society- those estranged and downtrodden and misunderstood. He ate with sinners- prostitutes and tax collectors and Pharisees and common people- they were all the same to him. People who needed to be seen as people.
Today, we make people into things. Murderers, terrorists, gays, Buddhists, Muslims, Republicans, Democrats, Hoosiers, Buckeyes, North Dakotans, poor, diseased, addicts, transgender, prostitutes, anything but human.
Jesus makes us see the human.
Joey asked us to please see the human beings beyond the labels. And today, I beg you- please, never forget, we are not things. We are people. It may be the best way to honor our husband, our father, our teacher, our friend.
It’s how I will remember him. Last week at Mass, I came across the following from Bridges of Contemplation- Lent and Holy Week with Thomas Merton, where the author said
“Life and death are identical twin sisters born within every human being. We are all kin as we travel the uneven roads of our common journey through life. Yet being kindred- why are we so unkind toward each other?
Why do we find it so hard to see each other’s dilemmas as being identical to our own? Why do we so often accept unkindness as the order of relations among us? For us to live unkindly to each other is to live unnaturally.
How do we live kindly in an unkind world?
Humility teaches us kindness. Humility prevents our taking the first places at life’s banquet, prevents our excessive consumption of resources while sisters and brothers on other continents or down the street cannot feed their children.
Humility helps us step down from the pedestal of individual destinies to share life with the crowd.
Humility helps us to see how easy it is to lose everything we hold dear in an instant; our house, our status, our families, our very selves lost in the distractions that keep us from realizing our kindness with one another.
Lent is an occasion for us to reorient our priorities, to attend to the least privileged first- to allow the lame lead us in the procession by their slower pace and with rhythms that appreciate how we must all proceed carefully or suffer soul-death alone.”
I will honor my friend by being careful with other humans beings in my life.
I will treat them with respect and dignity and kindness and humor and understanding.
I will treat them with love.
Because, ultimately, that’s what it’s all about.
I used to think that really enlightened people took their pain and changed the world; Nelson Mandela. Gandhi. Mother Teresa. Vaclav Havel. Peter Abelard. Victor Hugo. Joan of Arc. Francis of Assisi. Charles Dickens, Alexander Graham Bell, Oscar Romero, Stephen Bieko. Father Damien of Molokai. Dorothy Day. Raymond Hunthausen.
Like I said, I used to think these people took their pain and changed the world. But now, I’ve changed my mind.
I think these people took their pain and changed themselves.
And that changed the world.
That’s what our Joey did.
That’s what we are to do.
We are here to take our pain- a very ordinary part of our human lives- an unpleasant part of our ordinary lives- and change the world.
We are here to take our pain and change the world.
Into something extraordinary.
That’s building the Kingdom of God.
That’s honoring our husband, our father, our teacher, our friend. Because that’s what he did.
We take our pain, and we change the world- by being kind to one another.
Please be kind.
Above all things.
Even- and especially- when people can’t pay you back.
Or even, when they almost get you arrested- especially then- they might become your dear, dear friend.
Be open to surprises.
Just be kind….
I will honor my friend by being careful with other humans beings in my life…… .
Greg, beautiful tribute about an incredible human being……by another one of God’s beautiful creations. God Bless.
Thank you, Greg. I was there yesterday & am one of Joe’s Edinboro University colleagues. I appreciate your words and delivery. – Bridget Jeffery, Benedictine College ’80 (Atchison, KS)