Marking Time and Life on Labor Day Weekend

Over the years, Labor Day Weekend has proven to be a significant time in my life and that of my family.  Labor Day Weekend has traditionally been a time of major changes, of the end of summer vacation and the beginning of new school year, particularly relevant when you’re younger.

And it was 40 years ago this weekend, as our country celebrated its Bicentennial, that we made a momentous move from Detroit to Ann Arbor.  Three of my brothers and one of my sisters had graduated from high school, but there were still four of us who would continue in Ann Arbor.

I remember well that early September weekend in 1976, as I stayed overnight at my good friend Mike Donnelly’s home, and then drove with my Dad to Ann Arbor on Labor Day.  Those were still the relatively early days of the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon, in which we were encouraged to stay up late and “watch the stars come out,” though I was too preoccupied with things going on in my own life that year to take much notice.

Detroit was in the midst of serious changes at that time, which meant significant life alterations for me and many other residents of the Motor City.  Mayor Coleman Young, who was elected in November 1973, certainly didn’t invent “white flight,” which even preceded the 1967 summer riots of my early youth.  But Young certainly exacerbated it with policies that needlessly antagonized whites and also alienated middle-class blacks, thus further cultivating the erosive demographic seeds that would aid and abet Detroit’s 2013 bankruptcy, from which my beloved hometown is thankfully rebounding gradually.

On the other hand, in his youth, Coleman Young was sadly scandalized when he was refused admission to Detroit De La Salle High School because of his African-American ethnicity (pg. 18).  Recalled the now-deceased mayor, “That was the end of me and the Catholic Church.”

Detroit’s deterioration was very disappointing to me, because I had experienced how integration could and should take place at a Christ-centered school like St. Mary of Redford in Detroit, given the universality or catholicity of the Church.

In any event, the Nash Family—like many others at St. Mary’s and other parishes across the city—decided that staying put made no longer made good long-term sense.  Faced with increasing crime rates and stagnating real-estate values that wouldn’t keep pace with those of the burgeoning suburbs, many moved to the fringes of the city and suburbs like Farmington Hills, Livonia and, for us, Ann Arbor.

Because our home in Ann Arbor was more than twice the value of our home in Detroit, my sister Patricia, brother David and I enrolled in public schools, they at Huron High School and I in ninth grade at Clague Middle School.  I did not enjoy the transition to a secular school and dealing with it on my own, and so—to make a long story short—I began the second semester at St. Thomas High School, which would become known in my sophomore year as Father Gabriel Richard High School.

My little sister Mary, who had Down Syndrome, would enroll at High Point, and would continue there until the last year allowed—age 26.  Mary had the habit of defying her critics and edifying many in the process.  Born in February 1966 without properly functioning bowels, she was not expected to leave the hospital, given that she was not expected to survive surgery because of her congenitally weak heart and lungs.  But Mary not only survived days and weeks, but months and years, exceeding also the one-year limit her new doctors in Ann Arbor gave her in 1976.  Indeed, she was with us until the summer of 2008, serving as a poignant riposte to those who view lives such as hers as not worth living.

On this Labor Day Weekend, I am reminded of my parents’ labor, including my Dad’s 36 years at the Michigan Consolidated Gas Company, and Mom and Dad’s being open to and raising a big Catholic family, four members of which I look forward to meeting one day—an older sister Catherine, who died shortly after birth, and other three siblings who died through miscarriage.

But there was life to be lived in the meantime, and mine including learning to adapt better to secular society.  Some things I didn’t like at Clague were writ larger at the University of Michigan, and my challenge was made more difficult particularly in my first two years of college, as I never benefited from the continuity and camaraderie of the dormitory.  But adapt I did, and living at home and working part-time throughout my undergrad years set me up well to graduate from Michigan debt-free in 1984, and thus head on to graduate school at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, where I earned a scholarship that included a rather valuable out-of-state-tuition-fee waiver.

So it was around Labor Day 1984 that I began my studies at Mizzou, and further pursued my dreams of being the next Howard Cosell—with a more subdued ego—or Ted Koppel, while using my journalistic “celebrity” to give witness to Jesus Christ and his Catholic Church in my private life.

But I increasingly felt called to serve the Church full-time, and discerned that earning my master’s degree in Theology was needed to do so long term as more than just a journalist.  And thus it was around another Labor Day Weekend in 1993 that I began studies at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Today, my professional service to the Church has exceeded 25 years, and I am now back in Ann Arbor, this time serving as the Director of Special Projects at Ave Maria Radio.

And this Labor Day Weekend, my family and I commemorate Mom, Dad and Mary, as we lost Mom in 2011 and Dad a year ago during Labor Day Weekend.

We continue to give witness as they taught us, and look forward to the heavenly reunion when we no longer have to worry about labor, nor be concerned about marking time.