As a young kid I was quite literally obsessed with one and only one thing - building! I loved building, and would spend hours each day constructing little masterpieces (well, as close to masterpieces as a 5 or 6 year old could muster). Lego bricks, K'nex, Bionicles, Mega Bloks, wooden models which my dad and I would paint upon completion - you name it, I built with it. As I grew older, my love of building things increased. For example, instead of only following the instructions for a particular Lego kit, I would quickly build the kit as it was intended, and then take it apart and use its pieces to build something straight out of my imagination. Rather than only painting wooden models with my dad, he and I began to go into the workshop in my basement and build the models from pieces of scrap wood. My love of building truly sparked my creativity, and this creativity certainly carried over into all areas of my life.
My creativity soon got me involved in art. I began to draw. A lot. All the time. (The walls of my home still testify to the art-plosion of my childhood). I in fact drew so much that, during the winter months when outside recess wasn’t an option, my friends and I would draw during our would-be recess times. We crafted little monstrosities that we termed “duel monsters.” After we drew our daily lunch time beasts, we would have our drawings “fight” each other (hence the “duel” part of their names). This became a pretty popular pastime at my elementary school, and I know that I would definitely look forward to this part of the day every day!
Aside from providing me with some momentary fun during lunch time, these bouts of creative drawing led to one of the most important actions of my childhood - meeting my best friend Bryce. Bryce was a shy kid who normally ate by himself, but one day for some reason little first grade Brian went over to Bryce and invited him to eat lunch with at his table. Fast forward a week or so and Bryce was eating with us all the time, but didn’t really engage us. But when it came time to draw our duel monsters, Bryce took out some paper, a pencil, and drew some kick-ass monsters right with us. Fast forward 14 years and Bryce is still one of my closest friends. We’ve managed to stay close despite going to different colleges and studying very different majors. When we talked about Thomas Aquinas’s writings in class, we mentioned that “the joy of relationships comes from the gradual revealing of oneself to another.” I immediately thought of my relationship with Bryce when we discussed this line. Bryce and I have a wonderful friendship which has been built on this very principle - we have been gradually revealing ourselves to each other for the last 15 years, and we still have room to learn more about each other. Who knew that such a beautiful friendship would’ve grown out of a first-grader’s creativity?
4. My creativity has never really left me, and has really grown stronger over the years. I still love to build and to draw. My creativity has really served me well, particularly in my role as an RA. Creativity enables me to decorate my floor to the best of my ability, to craft meaningful, new, and insightful programs, and to figure out how to balance all the responsibilities of being an RA along with being a student and a friend. When I build or draw as a creative outlet, I get a few moments of peace and respite from my busy life. Just like Knight Antonius from The Seventh Seal, I find that moments of respite and relaxation enable one to grasp true meaning. I have found that when people take the time to let their creativity flow, they are able to get in touch with their truest and deepest selves.
A really big influence for me has been music. For just about as long as I can remember music has been a really big part of my life. As a young kid I liked the same music that my Mom liked - country music. (Although I no longer love this genre of music as much as I used to, I still remember most of the songs I used to listen to as a kid and I will still sing along whenever I hear these throwbacks). That's another thing - I am an avid singer. No matter who my company is, I will almost always belt out the lyrics to whatever song is playing - even though I sound way worse than the artists I listen to.
As I grew older my music tastes changed. Around 6th grade I made the transition from listening to country music to listening to pop music (as I bet most 6th graders do - most of my classmates did anyway). I was a big fan of the Black Eyed Peas, and among all of the popular artists at the time they were my favorite. At around this same time I began getting more involved in playing piano and violin. I had played piano since about the age of 9, and had started playing violin in the fourth grade in music class. I was fortunate enough to have private lessons for both instruments (I was much better at the piano). Although I enjoyed playing both instruments, I was very lazy in practicing them - I regret this a lot. I eventually stopped playing the violin after I had my right shoulder reconstructed after a skiing accident, and the piano waned more and more until I stopped playing at the age of 19. I regret this too. I often wonder how differently my life would be had I taken music lessons more seriously, and I would like to get back into them one day. Even though I was neglectful towards piano and violin, I did learn valuable skills because of them. I gained a deep respect for musicians and their work. I gained the ability to dissect a piece of music and hear each instrument individually as I listen to the songs (a skill called timbre, the name of which I learned in a human physiology class). I love that I can pick songs apart like this! I can listen to the same song ten times and hear something new each time I listen to it. Overall, I believe that studying music for so many of my younger years is the biggest single reason why music plays such a big part in my life to this day.
Getting back into the development of my music tastes, I remained an avid pop fan until 9th grade. It was at this time that one of my closest friends from high school, Jake, introduced me to alternative rock. I instantly fell in love. For me, the lyrics were so much deeper and more meaningful than anything I had heard in pop, the music was more complex and interesting, and I enjoyed my time listening to music more than I ever had before. There is a note of sadness in alternative music, and I really like this. I'm not entirely sure why, but I deeply enjoy sad music. I can venture a guess that growing up listening to more upbeat country and pop music that I had a conception that music was supposed to be happy. Alternative showed me otherwise, and as I experienced several significant sad events in my life near the beginning of high school, I think I took comfort in the sadder alternative music. My love of alternative music has since grown far past my love of its sad elements, but as best I can tell this is why I took such a keen interest in alternative from the beginning. While I love just about all alternative artists, my favorite by far is Imagine Dragons. Their music spoke to me the most. I know just about every word to just about every single one of their four albums. Their music has been with me through my greatest triumphs and my deepest lows. Even as I was writing this section, the song "Demons" from Imagine Dragons' first album was playing in the background. I've gone back and forth on my favorite Imagine Dragons song, but, at least for the last few weeks, "Demons" and a new song of theirs titled "Bad Liar" have been my favorites. These tracks mean a lot to me, and actually build on each other. Here are their videos:
I have always had a strong love of movies for the majority of my life. When I was really little I was a huge fan of classic hits like the Veggie Tales, The Emperor's New Groove ("Eh, Pacha?"), and just about any Disney movie. I would watch these movies all the time, probably driving both my parents and any other family members who happened to be watching me crazy. As I grew, though, my early love of movies waned, and by the time I was near the end of elementary school I didn't have much of a love of film anymore. I don't remember the exact year when the switch happened, but all of a sudden I began to fall in love with action and science fiction movies. Maybe it was because my friends started watching those type of movies, maybe it was because I was getting a little bit older, maybe it was because of just how cool Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, and Megatron looked in 2007's Transformers, but either way I was hooked. I soon swapped out my old movie collection with hits such as the Transformers saga (which I still like to watch today), the Pirates of the Caribbean saga (not exactly science fiction type stuff but hey I still liked it), and the crown jewel of my favorite movies for quite some time, James Cameron's Avatar. I would watch this last movie on repeat and at one time I was probably able to tell you the lines of all the key scenes by heart. (I am taking a vacation to Disney this summer and I am extremely excited to see the new Pandora land!)
While Avatar reigned supreme for quite some time, in 2014 a new movie took its place as my favorite. From the very first time I watched Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, I was in love. I thought (and still think) this movie was insane! Although Interstellar is quite lengthy, I enjoy every second of it. I honestly believe that this movie is what jump-started my love of outer space (which will become significant once I explain my connection to Star Wars in a short while). When I saw this movie for the first time I was speechless, and it instantly became my favorite movie (a title which it still holds, alongside The Dark Knight and The Empire Strikes Back). In fact, as I sit in my room writing this journal there is a poster for Interstellar hanging on my wall right above my desk (I included this poster here as well, except my poster is written in English). For me, Interstellar was not just significant because of how quickly and strongly I took a liking to it - it marked a turning point in my love of film. As I fell in love with this movie, I began to change my focus of what type of movies I searched for. Matthew McConaughey's character, Joseph Cooper, and his search for a new home for mankind represented the archetypal quest motif. As he journeys across the cosmos in search of a new Earth, Cooper discovers so much about himself and his relationships that he is scarce the same man who began the trek. From this moment on, I became conscious of this theme of questing (which I wouldn't formally learn about until AP English in 12th grade), and after that I gravitated to movies whose central characters embarked on similar quests.
My love of the quest motif that Interstellar awakened soon led me to superhero movies. Although the majority of these movies take place right here on Earth, the quests their heroes undergo are just as breathtaking as that of Joseph Cooper in Interstellar. Once I got caught up on the Marvel movies which had already been released I never turned back. I have now seen each movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe multiple times, and my friends and I look forward to, discuss, and buy tickets to each upcoming movie months in advance. Although I love just about all of the MCU movies, my favorite to date is Avengers: Infinity War. In fact, I love this movie so much that I chose it as my current floor theme. I'll attach several pictures of my floor theme at the end of this section. Although the DC movies haven't been my favorite, there is one movie from the DC universe that stands above all other superhero movies in my book. That movie is The Dark Knight. Batman has always been my favorite superhero since I first began liking superheroes, and his portrayal in this movie certainly did not disappoint! I think the reason I always liked Batman the best is because at the end of the day he's just a regular human being. He has no innate super powers of his own - he simply uses his intelligence and determination to keep up with heroes and villains who all have super powers and who therefore are much stronger, faster, durable, and more powerful than him. In this respect, I see Batman's own quest as comparable to the quest that each of us embarks on during our lives.
Overall, the most influential movies for me have been those of the Star Wars saga. I was not that into the galaxy far, far away until after Interstellar introduced me to how amazing outer space was. Sure, I had played with many Star Wars-themed Legos growing up, but I never felt a truly deep connection to Star Wars until I was older. Once I got really into Star Wars, I really got into it. I have seen each of the original six movies countless times, and The Empire Strikes Back remains one of my three favorite movies of all time. I think that my friends and I have easily spent whole days worth of time chatting about the galaxy far, far away. Much like we do for upcoming Marvel movies, we talk about the new Star Wars movies months in advance, and you can be sure to catch us at each opening weekend. My Dad and I also have made it our tradition to pre-order our tickets and catch the very first showing of each new Star Wars movie. My Dad and I have grown closer as a result of Star Wars - he always likes to share his stories of seeing the original Star Wars movies in theaters, and adds how revolutionary these movies were. I have based my favorite floor theme thus far on the Star Wars franchise, and I have included some pictures from that theme at the end of this section.
As we were discussion Spike Lee's Malcom X in class, an interesting point was made. Throughout the majority of Malcom's life, he advocated for an active revolution against the oppressive powers that be, yet he was not received well and even today it is hard to talk about him and his message. This is ironic because what Malcom advocated for is exactly what young Luke Skywalker and the Rebellion did against the Galactic Empire, but they received a very different reaction than did Malcom. Rather than jeering and calling the Rebel Alliance a bunch of terrorists, we as the audience cheer for them and root them on as they fight to overthrow the oppressive Empire. Why is it that we can celebrate righteous revolutions on the silver screen, but very often condemn them in real life? I believe it is because our society very often acts as that oppressive Empire, yet we are blind to it. When we see the oppression of the Empire on a movie screen, we rightly recognize it, are repulsed by it, and hope it gets overturned. When it is actually us in real life who are acting as the Empire, it is much harder to pull ourselves back, recognize and understand where and how we are being so oppressive, and decide as a society to relinquish the power we may hold over others in order that justice may be done. As a society we have gotten slightly better at this, but there is still a long way to go.
Sports have always played a very big part in my life. Whether it was watching my favorite teams play, or learning and playing myriad sports, I feel like I have always been immersed in sports. As I look back, I think that my love of sports began way back when I was a very young child. Aside from loving several players on the New York Yankees (notably Derek Jeter, Scott Brosius, and Paul O'Neil - which themselves are a comical story. As a kid I had a rough time saying "r" sounds, so when someone would ask me who my favorite baseball players were, 3-year old Brian would happily respond with "Dewek Jeeter, Scott Bwosius, and Pawl O'Niel" (as my Mom loves to quote)), I was a huge fan of the movie Angels in the Outfield. This movie was really formative for my love of sports - it helped shape me into a lover of baseball (something that I still am, for baseball is my favorite sport to watch, if you couldn't tell from my above list of favorite players). I also loved this movie because of, well, the angels. I was raised with a very strong Catholic faith, and to see my faith (or at least some version of it) on my television screen right alongside my favorite childhood sport really helped to tie these two concepts together. I have always prayed before big athletic events, and I believe that this movie was key for me relating God and sports.
It seems that, as soon as I was old enough, I joined my first sports team (if you couldn't figure guess, I first played on a baseball team!) There was a baseball field about 2 blocks from my house, and as soon as I was old enough for T-ball I became the newest member of the Sloan Field Green Team (in retrospect, naming our team after the color of our uniforms wasn't our most creative idea, but hey, you gotta work with what you're given). My very first and very creatively-named team is pictured here, along with a picture of me shortly after losing my first tooth. I loved this team, and after this first season was over I ended up playing through the second season of T-ball, both years of Pony League, both years of Farm League, and my first year of Little League. During this time I developed into quite a good player for a kid. I was the starting catcher for my final three years playing baseball, and after I played several innings behind the plate I would switch to just about any other position (with the exceptions of first base and pitcher). Had I not taken up and began to enjoy some other sports more and had there not been a major disagreement between my Dad and the other two coaches of my little league team, I probably would have continued playing baseball well into high school.
In addition to soccer, I played basketball (I played for 2 seasons and scored a total of 3 points - definitely not my sport!), skiing, and karate. I took a strong liking to karate almost immediately. I studied the form of karate called Goshin Jitsu (Japanese for self defense), and learned a lot about physical and mental strength in the process. My best friend growing up, Bryce, is the one who got me into it, and soon after I joined I met my group of closest friends (more on them all in a later entry). I did karate from fourth grade until my freshman year of college (I only stopped going because the two owners of my dojo ended their relationship and split into two different dojos, and class at either one of them just wasn't the same). During this time I learned many kata (forms), became very physically fit, learned how to defend myself, and became quite the sparrer (I even fought for the grand championship one year at a tournament!), and earned my black belt (the picture here is of several of my friends carrying me right after my black belt test concluded). Most notably, however, I gained many close friends with whom I still keep in touch.
Once middle school started, I was able to join a junior varsity sports team. Being thus involved in sports for basically my whole life, I jumped at this opportunity. I very clearly remember sitting in lunch during sixth grade saying to myself "whatever sports team comes in here first with a sign up sheet is the one I'm doing!" Well, the next day the cross country team came to the school and looked for new members. From that moment until the end of my senior year of high school, I was a cross country runner. I was really only ever good at cross country in my eighth grade year (yes, I did peak in middle school) - I ran 2 miles in just about 10 minutes and once ended up finishing 9th in a race (I had a real shot for first in this race until I lost my shoe in a puddle of mud and went back to get it, during the race). After this, I stayed the same height but gained a lot of muscle mass, so by the time senior year came around I was a big personality and motivational presence on the team, but often finished in the middle to back-half of the pack (in fact, if you look closely at this picture you can see me - I am the one turning around (because that's productive for running a race) about 8 rows back in the middle). I thought about joining my high school soccer team, but decided to stay with cross country because I loved my team and because it was great conditioning for my true favorite sport - swimming.
Swimming was my passion in high school. I grew up with a swimming pool in my back yard, and as soon as I got to high school I jumped at the opportunity to join this team. Unfortunately, a skiing injury kept me sidelined for my entire freshman year (it's quite hard to swim with a sling), so once sophomore year came around I was the newest member of West Scranton High School's swimming and diving team. My second best friend, Dave, had been a member of this team since our freshman year, and he really helped me transition onto the team. Dave has been and continues to be one of the most important people in my life, and throughout high school we did sports together all three seasons, took many of the same classes, and just became increasingly close. I regret that we have somewhat drifted apart since college, but whenever we get the chance we always take it to hang out with each other and catch each other up on our lives.
On our swimming team, all the new people start their racing careers in the 50 yard freestyle (the shortest race of the whole meet - I often likened it to the 100 meter dash in the Olympics). Usually after this, you will cycle between events until you find one that you (at least somewhat) enjoy and are good enough at to be competitive. It turns out that I was so good at the 50 that I never left! Throughout my three years as part of this team, my times just kept on dropping in this and all other short distance freestyle events. By the time I graduated, I was the second fastest swimmer in the history of my high school! I completed the 50 yard free in 23.5 seconds, just one tenth of a second away from tying my school record. I am content with this, however, and I firmly believe that had I not been sidelined my freshman year I would hold that record today.
My swim team was like a second family to me. There was no other group of people with whom I would want to swim endless and sometimes torturous sets. The picture for this section includes me and the other seniors on my team (minus Dave because he was sick with the flu) on our senior night after a spectacular come-from-behind win. I became extremely close to my teammates and coaches (I recently ran into one of my coaches last week when he was on the way to the hospital for the birth of his first child. Even though we hadn't seen each other in a while he still stopped to tell me that he was going to be a father later that day, and it really warned my heart to hear that). I really miss this team and this sport, and my only regret so far about my time at Scranton was that I didn't continue my swimming career here.
Probably the single biggest influence in my life has been my family. I waited so long to talk about my family because they have really helped to shape all of the other influences in my life that I have already talked about (whether that be pushing my to try new sports, encouraging me to push my creative limits with my Legos and floor themes, driving me to the movies so that I could see the really transformative movies I've talked about, or indirectly pushing me to the music I now love). I come from a huge Irish-Italian family on my Mom's side (I have 5 sets of aunts and uncles besides my parents, am the second youngest of 13 grandchildren, have three baby cousins who are the great-grandchildren, and have had two grandparents that love all of us unconditionally). I come from a smaller Slovak-German-Lithuanian family on my Dad's side (where I have 2 sets of aunts and uncles besides my parents, have had 2 very loving grandparents, and am the youngest of 2 grandchildren). I could not possibly talk about all of my family members in this post, so I will limit myself to my parents and my grandparents.
Mom and Dad
My parents are absolutely amazing! They have been extremely supportive and loving towards me at all points in my life. Whether I was at my highest highs or my lowest lows, they were always there to guide me, comfort me, and walk with me in my life. I couldn't possibly write about all of the influence they've had in my life, so I will stick to some highlights. My Mom is a high school nurse at my high school. She has always had a very fiery personality (much like myself when I get worked up a little bit). We both love eating ice cream and watching sports together, whether that be on the professional level or the high school level. We both went to West Scranton High School, and so we both "bleed blue" and share a strong passion for this school. My Mom has been and continues to be my biggest supporter, and I am forever grateful for that. My Mom leads by example through her very caring personality, and has inspired me to do the same.
My Dad has also held a very strong influence in my life. My Dad works as a school guidance counselor, and was my class's counselor during high school (this wasn't planned - it's just how the rotation of counselors worked out). I always remember watching the tv show Mythbusters with Dad. I truly believe that this is where my love of science (which is where my choice of major and career stem from) began. My Dad and I also share a similar sense of humor, so we watch shows like Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe and Hogan's Heroes regularly. We also are big fans of Marvel and Star Wars (I'm still not sure whether he liked these before I came along, or if he began to like these after I expressed an interest in them), so we go to the premiers of new Star Wars and Marvel movies together.
As I mentioned, my parents have been pillars of support in my life. My parents both have a very strong Catholic faith, and through their example I have been exposed to what the life of a Catholic is and have grown tremendously in my faith because if it. My parents have helped me through some dark times in high school, specifically during my senior year. At this point I was locked in a battle with another person for the title of valedictorian of my graduating class. Even though I earned this title fair and square, the person who was ranked second could not accept this, routinely told just about everyone who would listen that I had conspired with my parents (both of whom worked in my high school) to alter my GPA, and may have even tried to get another guidance counselor to alter his own grades to surpass mine. Through this all my parents were always there to help me through. My parents have also been really helpful in helping me to decide to become an RA, apply for the several service trips I have participated in, dealt with me as I questioned my career path and faith, and even helped me to decide to change my primary academic major going into senior year. Through their constant attention, care, and devotion to me and to each other, I have learned what unconditional love truly looks like.
Gram and Pop
My grandparents on my Mom's side played a big role in my life thus far. Every Sunday we gather as a family at their house for a meal of pasta with homemade sauce and meatballs. I looked forward to these Sunday afternoons very much growing up, and continue to look forward to them each week. My Gram was one of the nicest people you'll ever meet. When I was a kid my Gram was my babysitter, and even though I was a little too young to remember this story, Gram would always say that after I woke up from my afternoon nap, she would hear me playing in my crib for quite some time over the baby monitor before I would whisper "Gramma, I'm awake" into that monitor. She loved telling that story. As a little kid I spent a ton of time at Gram and Pop's house (they only live about 3 blocks from my house). My Gram would play so many games with me and my other cousins, and made sure to have us sit with her and Pop to watch the Yankees games - I'm sure this is why I'm such an avid Yankees to this day. Gram was a masterful baker (and I attribute my sweet tooth to her Texas sheet cake, Miss America pie, and a host of other delicious treats). Gram absolutely hated getting her picture taken, so this picture of her and Pop is truly something special to me. Gram recently passed away this past April 1, and I'm sure that she's shaking her head at me for including this picture of her in this page.
Pop has always been just as present in my life as Gram. Pop was a high school Latin teacher at my high school many years ago, so starting in fourth grade I would meet with him once a week and he would teach me Latin as if I was in his class. I really looked forward to these Latin lessons, and they definitely helped to shape my young mind for the better. Pop is without question the smartest individual I have ever met. His knowledge about world history, politics, religion, and just about everything else is unparalleled in my family, and I love to have deep conversations with him on as many of these subjects as I can. Once Pop learned that I was studying philosophy as a second major, he quoted Thomas Aquinas' definition of philosophy for me (of course right off the top of his head, and in Latin no less): "philosophia est scientia omnium rerum per ultimas causas sub lumine rationales (philosophy is the study of all things through ultimate causes under the light of reason)." Pop definitely helped shape me into the man I am today, and he continues to be one of my biggest role models.
Grandma and Grandpa
I was not as close with my grandparents on my Dad's side as I was with my grandparents on my Mom's side. Grandma and Grandpa live about a half hour away, but I would only get to see them on every other Sunday growing up and on big holidays like Christmas and Easter. I wish I was closer with them. My grandparents met shortly before my Grandpa was drafted to serve in WWII, and throughout his time serving in the Army Air Corps in Africa and Southern Europe my grandparents would write letters to each other every day. It turns out that they both kept the letters that the other wrote, and while cleaning up their house to make an apartment for my Grandma on the first floor my Dad and I rediscovered these letters. This was one of the most special things in my life I have ever found. My Grandpa passed away when I was 14, and we found these letters when I was 19. My Grandma immediately cried for joy when we found them and brought them to her. Grandma has since started re-reading these letters, and whenever I see her she always tells me a new story that she's uncovered. Pictured here is a good chunk of my family on this side at Christmas time - Grandma is of course front and center.
So I know I said I was limiting myself to just my parents and grandparents, but I wanted to talk a little bit about my Uncle John as well. Firstly, Uncle John isn't my blood relative. He and my dad both went to the University of Scranton at the same time, and they actually met the night of freshman year move in. Uncle John jokingly told me the story of how he and my dad met as follows: "yeah I kept trying to lose your Dad but he kept following me around all the time, and eventually we just let him stay." Uncle John is a priest in the archdiocese of Washington DC, and he and my Dad have been best friends for over 30 years at this point. For as long as I can remember we have gone on vacation together every summer (usually to our favorite destination, the beach), and I have to say that this week of vacation has always been my favorite week of any summer. I often call or text Uncle John either to ask for help or just to check in, and he has definitely helped to shape my life and my faith in more ways than I even know.
They say that you can't choose your family (well, for the most part anyway), but you can certainly choose your friends. I think this is not entirely accurate. For me, my closest friends have always seemed just like family, and in many ways I am much closer with my friends than with many of my extended family members. For this reason, I believe that while you may not be able to choose some family members, you can most certainly choose the friends who become your family.
I've already told the story of how Bryce and I first became friends. For a while it was just the two of us paling around. When we were in fourth grade, however, I got into a little bit of a fight, a fight which I definitely lost. I was shaken up (as were my parents and also Bryce's parents - we spent so much time at each other's houses growing up that the other's parents basically acted as our second set of parents. To this day Bryce's mom refers to me as her third son, and my mom refers to Bryce and his younger brother as her second and third children). Following this fight, and I'm sure following the conversation my parents had with Bryce's, I started doing this new thing that Bryce had been doing for a while - karate.
I very vividly remember my first class at American Dojo Karate. It was physical fitness week at the dojo, and my first day was obstacle course day. I barely knew what I was doing, but I had a blast and was hooked from day 1 and became a regular at the dojo. I didn't know it at the time, but this dojo and the friendships I would soon forge there would become integral to my life from the fourth grade to the present day. After a few weeks Bryce introduced me to some of his dojo friends, specifically to Ryan and Emily Loftus (a brother-sister duo). Ryan was the same age as Bryce and I, and Emily was only one year older. We immediately hit it off, and began to hang out in the dojo all the time. Shortly after I started taking lessons at the dojo, Bryce's next door neighbor Dave (yes, the same Dave with whom I did all my high school sports and who soon became my second best friend) also started at the dojo. Soon after this, we met Devon, who was also our age, and our group became even bigger. After about a year or so we started to interact more with Danny. He was two years older than us and several ranks higher, but he didn't seem to mind that we were all a little younger than he was.
For a few years we were only dojo friends, meaning we all would just hang out at the dojo and go our separate ways after class. Then during eighth grade that all changed. Bryce hosted a Halloween party at his house, and invited all of the dojo people. This was the first time we had ever all hung out together outside of the dojo, and it was what really kick started our relationships with each other. From eighth grade onward, we all began to hang out at just about every opportunity we could. Soon after the big group began hanging out, we began to pal around with Jake and Liam (the only two members of the group who never went to American Dojo Karate). We each became extremely close with one another, and as we progressed through high school those relationships became ever deeper. Much like Perry and Jack in The Fisher King, we would help each other through our lowest lows, but also be there to cheer each other on to our highest highs. Our bond of friendship grew so strong that even the owners of the dojo (who happened to be Devon's aunts) took notice, and contacted some tv producers about making a reality tv show about the dojo, and specifically us (I swear I'm being serious, my friends and I were nearly reality tv stars)! We filmed a lot of footage, and the producer even came to the dojo at one point - it really looked like it was going to happen! Eventually the dojo began to break apart and the show fell through, but it was still a very unique experience. My friends and I still joke how we nearly became the real-life Karate Kids.
I quite honestly cannot imagine what my life would've been like without this amazing group of individuals present in it. Although the dojo eventually closed, and we each went away to different colleges (except for Bryce and Jake, who both went to West Chester and remain apartment mates to this day), we have remained very close, and make sure to spend as much time with each other as possible during breaks. The picture chose of all of us was taken at the fourth annual Loftus family Christmas party, a holiday tradition that I look forward to pretty much all Fall Semester.
I could talk about my friends from college for quite some time, but I want to focus on one person in particular who's changed my life. Her name is Megan Fabian. Megan and I are both members of the Special Jesuit Liberal Arts Program, and we met in our intro to philosophy course (we ended up doing the downtown scavenger hunt together). I didn't think much of this at the time, because, like most freshmen in their first weeks of college, I was meeting about 30 new people a day and still adjusting to college life - Megan was initially just one of these new faces. As the year progressed we kept running into each other, and we became friends. This is how our relationship remained until we moved back onto campus for our sophomore year. Megan and I were in a course called trivium together, and I remember us in the study lounge on fourth floor Condron struggling with sentence diagramming and writing extremely concise papers which had to contain copious information (hey, 240 word limits are not a lot to work with!). We soon began to hang out and get meals together, and our relationship steadily began to grow. Soon after I asked Megan on a date (I had never been more nervous), but thankfully she said yes. Megan and I began dating October of our sophomore year, and I can honestly say that these past 19 months have been some of the happiest months of my life. Megan is my rock. She is always there to comfort me when I'm upset, build me back up when I'm down, laugh with me when life is good, and give me a smile when a smile is exactly what I need. We have made so many incredible memories together (whether they took place in Scranton, or Buffalo (Megan's hometown), or on the four hour car ride to get to each other), and Megan has taught me so much about myself, God, how to make a good gingerbread house dancing, and about life in general. After quite some time, Megan and I chose a song for our relationship - "Come to Me" by the Goo Goo Dolls. Megan has absolutely changed my life for the better, and I can only hope that she feels the same about my impact on her life.
Now that I've discussed the major influences of my life, I can begin to talk about my life's current stuff and say how my influences have impacted the choices I've made. The first one of these choices I want to talk about is service. For as long as I can remember my Dad was a member of the local Knights of Columbus. As a kid I was a regular attendee of the Easter, Halloween, and Christmas holiday parties the Knights hosted. These parties were held in the cafeteria of the school at my Church (St. Patrick's Parish in West Scranton), and provided food and fun activities for local West Side kids, regardless of their religion or lack thereof. I loved these parties as a kid (I even was awarded the best Halloween costume one of the years my dad and I made my costume. I walked into the cafeteria looking like a carton of Hershey's chocolate milk, complete with a red and white striped straw). Once middle school started, I signed up for an ambitious endeavor - there was a year-long physical fitness challenge, and if all requirements were met I would be invited on a white water rafting trip at the close of the school year. Although the fitness challenges were daunting enough, there was a community service requirement too (which I believe was 50 hours throughout the school year). That seemed like a lot to a little sixth grade Brian! So it was at this point in my life that, rather than attending the holiday parties the Knights hosted, I began to volunteer at them. I would be responsible for working some game or another, and it made my heart happy to see the joy in the little kids' faces as they played their hearts out. This was my first real introduction to service.
Shortly after this (still in sixth grade nonetheless), I began to volunteer at the food drives the Knights host at my parish food bank. Two food drives happen each year (one in May and the second in November), and since I started helping out with these in sixth grade I have been a regular until the present. I continued in this service work until my 18th birthday. At this point I became a full member of the Knights of Columbus (so yeah, I guess my full name would be Sir Brian Martin). After becoming a full member I continued to volunteer at the holiday parties and food drives, but also began working my parish picnic, specifically with the Knights at the clam tent (which we have since expanded to include corn, burgers, and pulled pork). For four summers now I have worked long days with my fellow Knights, and although I leave each night smelling like a piece of seafood I wouldn't trade it for the world. Pictured is our picnic crew from this past summer.
Although my passion for service started with my family connection to the Knights, it certainly didn't stop there. Here on campus I am a regular volunteer at the Leahy Clinic where I work as an office volunteer (meaning I pull patient charts for clinic day and schedule appointments). I have participated in both Domestic Outreach and International Service experiences through campus ministries (and literally the day after this semester ends I will be catching a flight out to Indiana to participate in another Domestic Outreach experience). Both of these service trips occurred in my sophomore year. I traveled to Baton Rouge to work with the St. Bernard Project to rebuild homes which were devastated by an unnamed tropical storm in late summer 2016. Since the devastation resulted from an unnamed storm system amid the chaos of the 2016 presidential election, the people of Baton Rouge were largely forgotten about, and I was not even aware they had been impacted by a storm of any kind until learning about what we were going to do while in Baton Rouge. This was my first far away service experience, and I met some amazing people (from my group, from the SBP organization, and from the local population of Baton Rouge) and learned some extremely useful skills (such as how to paint efficiently and how to hang a door properly, to name a few).
In the summer of 2016 I participated in an International Service Program experience to San Bernardino, Guatemala. To say that this experience was life-changing is honestly an understatement. My group and I did our best to prepare for all that we would see while in-country, but all the preparation in the world could not have prepared me for all that I witnessed in Guatemala. After landing in the Guatemala City airport, we drove three hours on VERY bumpy dirt roads to reach San Bernardino. We worked with a fantastic organization called Partners in Development, a nonprofit group which seeks to help families build new and better homes, connect children with sponsors, help more people get an education, and provide food and medical care for the local community. PID basically does it all. My group was tasked with laying the foundations for a family's new home, so when we arrived at the worksite it was the absolute first day of construction. I can still see the scene of the site in my mind. To get to the home we had to walk through about 80 yards of twisting paths, most of which was lined with barbed wire (this is the Guatemalan equivalent of our chain-link fencing). The family whose home we were helping to build was living in extreme poverty: their house consisted of four wooden posts dug into the ground, with walls made of flimsy blue construction tarps and a roof of rusty and leaky tin. The only floor to speak of was dirt, but since it was the rainy season their floor was more accurately described as mud. The children whose families couldn't afford school were with us at the worksite, and we often stopped to play with them (I became particularly close with a little boy named David, pronounced Dah-veed). These poor kids were too poor for proper nutrition, however, so they snacked on sugar packets and drank soda because clean water was too expensive. Seeing this ripped my heart in two. As we worked (and believe me, carrying heavy bags of cement mix and lime from the street to the site, leveling the ground, digging trenches, tying rebar, and moving a mountain of sand was hard work, but doing so in 100% humidity and 90-95 degrees was a whole new level), I began to learn many new things. Despite the utter poverty the people of San Bernardino lived with each day, they are the happiest people I've ever met. They live surrounded with their whole families, and they taught me that the material things I've often equated with happiness don't really matter in the end. I learned the value of true hard work, and also learned just how fortunate we are here in America with our heavy construction equipment and power tools; there was an older man who was helping to build the house, and even though he was all of our senior by many decades he worked with such speed that he put our entire team to shame. I also learned the value of genuine human connection. Although I do not speak Spanish, I was able to connect with the people of San Bernardino, often communicating through broken Spanish-English hybrid words and phrases and relying a lot on gestures. This was at once the most frustrating and rewarding part of the experience. Looking back on my struggles and successes with communicating in a language I did not know or understand, I am reminded of the movie Arrival. Although Louise knew absolutely nothing of the heptapods' language (putting her in an even worse position than I was in), she did not simply shut out this "other" (as is all too easy in today's world), but rather worked hard to understand the heptapods and their language, learning not just about them but also about herself and humanity in the process. I believe that this is the chief goal of service. Sure, we are able to help others, but we also are helped by those whom we serve. Through service, we learn so much about ourselves, about those whom we serve, and about the greater human family; in effect, I believe that service is part of what it means to be human. Service is extremely important, and will continue to play a huge role in my life.
Back in high school, if you told me I'd be an RA in college, I probably would've laughed at you. From about February in my senior year of high school I knew I was coming to the University of Scranton, and being a lifelong Scrantonian this meant I would be commuting to college. I definitely wanted to live on campus and get that "whole college experience," but it simply didn't make financial sense for my family and I to spend $14,000 per year to live on campus when a parking permit and the occasional tank of gas were much cheaper.
As I began my college experience, I felt like something was missing. All of my close friends growing up had moved away to other colleges (some as far as Massachusetts), so even though this university is literally 10 minutes from my house I felt like I was starting over. Sure I was making friends, but I lacked the really deep connections I had with my friends from home. I blamed my lack-of-new-friendships on the fact that I was a commuter trying to make friends among resident students, and reasoned that people who lived on campus simply had much more time each day to meet new people and forge new friendships. I really wasn't happy.
Because I thus felt deprived of the friendship I was looking for, I sought to throw myself into a leadership position to kind of fill the void. Back in high school I had served as my class president one year (a year in which my officers and I accomplished a TON of great things for our school, most notably the awarding of 27 honorary high school diplomas to veterans who left high school to serve our nation during the 70th anniversary of D-Day, for which our mascot, the Invader, is named), and was elected to serve as president of student council my senior year. Through these positions I was able to develop myself into a strong leader, and I consider this leadership a big part of who I am. I thought that, if I served in a leadership position at college, I would be able to reconnect with a part of me that I had seemed to have lost, thereby making myself happier.
I searched around campus for some interesting positions I could apply for, and eventually my eye fell on residence life. I thought that this was the absolute best of both worlds - not only could I have a nice leadership position once again, but also I would be able to live on campus (for free)! I jumped at the opportunity to apply, and through some miracle I was hired after my first application cycle to be an RA for my sophomore year. I was elated and quite honestly relieved. I applied for the RA position for completely selfish reasons. All I wanted was to live on campus and to have another premier leadership position. That was all. I didn't really care about what this position meant or just how big a role I would play in the lives of my residents.
I was woefully unprepared for my first summer training. I expected it to consist of a few days, some training on how to handle residents, and instruction on how to patrol through the dorms. I was quite shocked to learn that there was WAY more to this position. I very poignantly remember calling my parents after our training on how to plan and implement monthly programs, and saying to them "What did I get myself into?!"
I'm happy to say that I have very much matured since my first few days as an RA. I have learned so much about myself through this position. I have made many connections with my residents over the past two years; I have seen two floors of guys mature from cocky and overconfident freshmen into more responsible young men. I have quite literally helped form the lives of all my residents. Whether that be through decorating my hallways to make the space open and inviting; through getting to know them each and supporting them; through helping them navigate their transitions to college, difficult courses, or figuring out how to register for housing; or through convincing a resident that his life is in fact worth living for, I have touched the lives of each of my residents (hopefully for the better), and this is something that I don't take lightly.
Another transformative part of this position is definitely the two groups of RAs I've had the pleasure of working with (we call each group of RAs who are responsible for the same buildings a region). These two groups have become like family to me, and over the course of our years together we have become extremely close. I've dealt with a lot of difficult situations in this job, specifically with really stressful mental health situations with several residents. Thankfully, my regions were always there to lend their support to me when I needed it most. Most importantly, these two regions have taught me that it's ultimately me, not where I live or with what I'm involved, who determines how close I grow with people.
Yes, I applied for res life out of completely selfish motives. But shortly after joining, I realized that being part of this organization means being part of something much larger than myself. Had I not acted out of selfishness and loneliness my freshman year, I never would've tried to be an RA, and I never would've learned the important lessons that I've learned from this organization (and likely would be a much worse person for lack of these lessons).
When I was a little kid, my answer to the question "Now, what do you want to be when you grow up?" was pretty standard for a young lad - I would always tell the person asking that I wanted to be a paleontologist! As a child I watched Disney's Dinosaur more times than should be allowed. As a result, I developed a big love for dinosaurs. By the age of 5 I could tell you the names of a ton of different dinosaurs (my favorite was always the T-rex, and I had a t-shirt to prove it!). I eventually grew out of the paleontology idea, but I still have a soft spot in my heart for dinosaurs today.
Up until Intercession of my junior year of college, I was seemingly completely set on being a surgeon. It was at this point that a pesky verse from the Gospel of Luke (which I saw on the wall every time I walked into Brennan Hall) kept nagging me - "of those to whom much is given, much is expected." Now I have always had a very strong command of the sciences, but since starting college this command has gotten even stronger. Whether biology, physiology, organic chemistry, or microbiology, I've had to put extremely little time into studying compared to any of my peers, and yet I understand and remember the material even better than they do. This verse from Luke made me ask myself if there was something more I could be doing rather than being a doctor, such as doing research. Sure, I would be helping a lot of people in this career (and be very happy doing so), but with such a strong command of the sciences, I may be able to discover the cure to a horrible disease, thereby helping all of humanity.
I wrestled with this question for a while (admittedly for far too long without asking for help). I knew I would be way happier as a physician, but I felt it was almost a duty of mine to use my science gifts to help as many people as possible. I felt very disconnected from myself - I had prepared since 8th grade to be a doctor (this even weighed in my decision to come to the University of Scranton in the first place), and I felt like I was losing a connection between Grandpa and myself. Eventually, I talked with my family members and some trusted faculty members here at Scranton. Many of them said that they would support me either way, but one faculty member here, Dr. Klonoski, wasn't having that. He sat and talked with me for about an hour one day, and we discussed my reasonings why I would suddenly want to do research rather than the career path I was so much preparing for and looking forward to for such a long time. He also pointed out to me that, although I have been given such great gifts, I don't have to be miserable in my career to use them (I'm not a huge research person, and would definitely prefer a career with lots of patient interaction). In fact, he helped me to see that I most likely wouldn't be using my gifts at their highest potentials if I wasn't happy in my career, and if I wasn't using my gifts to their highest potential it would defeat the purpose of ever becoming a researcher in the first place. I have thought a lot about this conversation we had, and the more I reflect about it, the more right Dr. K becomes. I've decided to continue to pursue my career path of becoming a physician, and maybe one day I will get involved with clinical research after I've practiced medicine for a while. I don't know if this will end up being the correct path, but what I do know is that I am more at peace with my decision and that I am ready to encounter all that the future has in store for me as a physician.
As I'm sure I've mentioned before, I grew up with a very strong Roman Catholic faith. For as far back as I can remember my parents and I went to Sunday Mass together (usually with my coloring books in tow). I went to Sunday school each week, and received all the sacraments with my friends. Things were great and I felt like I was really growing in my faith (as much as a kid/ teenager could grow in faith).
As I grew, however, my faith began to lose its significance in my life. I think that my faith took its first major hit with the death of my Grandpa Martin. He was an extremely faith-filled man right until the end, and it was a comfort to know that he was returning home. But still, I asked God why Grandpa had to suffer, both from his cancer and from the constant testing that my family members and doctors put him through.
Although I didn't know this at the time, my reaction to my Grandpa's passing was the first run in I had with suffering and the problem of evil (concepts that I didn't really understand until my metaphysics course sophomore year). It seemed that after I saw suffering first hand with Grandpa, my eyes were opened to the rest of the suffering around me. I watched my friend's parents go through a nasty divorce, saw more good people suffer really tough deaths that they didn't deserve (including the recent death of my Grandma Martinelli), learned more about the natural disasters occurring around the globe, and began noticing the effects of poverty all around me (my high school had a poverty rating of 2/3, meaning that 2 of every 3 students lived at or below the poverty level); these effects of poverty were further augmented by my two service trip experiences to Baton Rouge and San Bernardino Guatemala. Additionally, I saw that a lot of the suffering I saw resulted from some really bad, immoral people gaining some form of power and then using that power to solidify their own place in the world at the expense of the rest of the planet. Although I wasn't able to put words to the feelings I was experiencing in the moment, looking back I can say that my problem basically could've been summed up as this: "I've always been told that God is this all-good, all-loving Being. How then can God sit around and allow so many people to suffer around the globe? Either God isn't all-good or all-loving, or maybe God just doesn't exist at all." I also felt like I wanted a guarantee regarding faith. It was hard for me to put so much trust in old priests and ancient promises when I felt so out of touch with them and had such a hard time seeing any of their effects in my life. From my junior year of high school to the present day, I have had a big love of science, which of course places huge emphasis on experimentation and truth discovery, leaving very little room for faith or belief without hard evidence. I think my attitude toward science stuff rubbed off onto the rest of my life. Living by a religion is really hard, and I wanted proof that God truly did exist before I committed myself to such a rigorous life. I thought "Why put yourself through all of this? If you're wrong then you basically sacrificed a lot of things you would've liked to do in your life for nothing."
I slowly began to care less and less about my faith and my relationship with God. By about senior year, I was just going through the motions - I would still go to Mass with my parents each week (hell, I even taught my own Sunday school class of fifth graders for two years), but my heart wasn't in it. My parents' faiths were extremely strong (which prevented me from wanting to talk to them about my own faith issues), and since I went to a public school it wasn't really allowed to talk about faith. The vast majority of my friends also didn't have strong faiths and preferred not to talk about the issue. I felt alone in this struggle. I wanted to believe in God, but just couldn't bring myself to do so.
When we watched The Seventh Seal, I really empathized with the main character. This knight was burdened by his faith. Like myself, he sought out a guarantee of God's existence - living by faith alone was very difficult for him. He even cried out at one point, lamenting the difficulty of faith. Yeah same here. I remember very vividly while watching this movie how much of myself I saw in the knight. Looking in this mirror of sorts was scary, yet clarifying. I began to review my own faith more after this experience, and through synthesizing many past experiences and little nuggets of wisdom I've been able to grow.
As I stated above, my faith was really stagnant starting during my senior year of high school. This stagnation continued until October of my sophomore year of college. I heard about this thing called the Silent Retreat, and for some reason I gravitated toward it. The thought of not being able to talk for a while weekend made me feel very leery, but it was as if something in my heart was telling me to sign up for this retreat. So I did. I was assigned a spiritual director for the weekend, and I was lucky enough to be assigned to Father Rick. When we met for the first night of the retreat for our 30 minute slot of being able to talk, he asked me why I was there that weekend. Without thinking, I told him that I had been having problems with my faith and that I wanted to work on them. I was shocked at what was coming out of my mouth! I couldn't believe I had just said that. But it felt strangely liberating to say what I was struggling with for so long and get it off my chest. Father Rick and I then had a very meaningful conversation in which we talked about God, faith, proving God's existence, and many other things. The most salient thing Father Rick said to me was actually a question. When I told him that I wanted to know God existed and I didn't want to be wrong in my choice, he simply asked me, "So, what if you're wrong?" He went on to say that if you believe in God and you're right, you'll have the next life waiting for you, but that if you were wrong and God didn't exist you'd never know about it. Conversely, if you don't believe in God and you're right you'd never know you're right, but if you were wrong and God did exist you'd have all eternity to dwell on that. I was blown away. I had never thought of the situation like that before, and this was really the moment that my faith began to be built back up.
Later that year in my metaphysics course we were talking about God and the universe, specifically how they relate to one another. After talking about the argument of necessity and about the possible multiverse, we talked about a concept called cosmic fine tuning. This concept states that there are very many properties of the universe that are precisely balanced, and that if any of these 50+ properties were altered by a hair's breadth that the universe would be unable to support life. Take the cosmological constant for example. If this property were altered by one in 10^120, the universe either would have expanded too quickly for even atoms to form, or too slowly to escape gravity and therefore been crushed back on itself. But our universe does exist, meaning that we live in the once chance out of 10^120 in which life is possible. There are 50+ other constants like this, each of which, if altered slightly, would've made life impossible. This type of balance necessitates a Being which did the balancing. Not only did this realization greatly strengthen my faith, but also helped to blend faith with science for me - rather than constantly being at odds with each other, it seemed like science was finally supporting religion, and I learned about this in a philosophy course - talk about interdisciplinary studies!
Even though I seemed to have more evidence about God's existence, I still couldn't reconcile the fact that there was so much evil and suffering in the world. Why couldn't God just wipe away all the suffering and stop bad people from exacting evil on others? Our discussion in class of Hannah Arendt really helped me with this. Her phrase "banality of evil" showed me that evil doesn't have to come from some really bad people, but rather can come from ordinary people. It was at this point that I remembered a discussion I had heard about free will. In order for humanity to truly possess free will, it has to be possible for us to make mistakes and errors; in other words, we have to be able to exercise our will, regardless of the consequences (good or bad) which result from our actions. When the choices we make result in bad consequences, either for ourselves or for others, we tend to call this "evil." Therefore, evil must necessarily exist in a world where there is free will. I suddenly realized that, if God simply took away all the evil and the suffering it causes, God would be effectively eliminating our free will, something that is essential to who we are.
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