John Whitlock and I played soccer together in high school.  I still vividly remember the first day of tryouts freshman year; the varsity coach told us we were going to run all day, and that is exactly what we did.  He followed us in his car, and we ran the entire allotted time: ten miles through the dusty back roads of St. Johns.  The next day we began drill, and you could see clearly who was sore and who was in shape.  I was an average soccer player (if I am to be honest with myself) but pursued it with the ferocity that I bring to most of what I do.  Sophomore year I got cut from team, and was devastated.  If that hadn’t happened, though, I probably wouldn’t be an actor.  After not making the team, I auditioned for my first play that fall.  John kept playing soccer, eventually making his way to varsity.

(Left: St. Augustine of Hippo, Right: my friend from high school, John Whitlock)

John Whitlock is now in preparation to be a Roman Catholic priest.  When I knew him he wasn’t even Catholic, so this came as a bit of a surprise.  The last time I saw John was probably New Year’s Eve 1999, a night that provided the basis for the song “Right Foot to Red Circle.”  John sent me his interview recently from Michigan, and in it he mentions a question we were all asked for the high school yearbook: “Write something that surprised you from your time in school.”  He answered saying that he was surprised by how nothing turns out the way you expect.  John got an undergraduate degree in business and a master’s degree in accounting.  Yet after a few years of working as a CPA, he decided that he was meant to do something else.  He wanted to help people, to tangibly make a difference in the lives of others.  I have to say, I certainly understand the surprise at seeing how your life unfolds.  When John and I played soccer together, I thought I would be an engineer.  Years after being cut from the soccer team and doing a high school play, I find myself writing, producing, and performing a song cycle.

Watching John’s interview, I realized how much subtle religious imagery is in the songs.  Dave and I are “corn fields, Jesus Christ and apple pie,” Stacey is “like St. Augustine / her heart feels too much,” and “John Whitlock, he became a priest.”

(John and I after helping decorate the gym for the homecoming dance, circa 1997)

Augustine of Hippo was a philosopher and theologian who lived in the northern African provinces of the Roman Empire from 354-430 A.D.  He is considered the patron saint of brewers, printers, theologians, and sore eyes (I think that goes to show that it is certainly possible to be both an intellectual and enjoy a pint of ale).  As a young man Augustine followed the Manichaean religion, and also developed a relationship with a young woman from Carthage.  They lived together for eleven years and she bore him a son, yet because she was so far below him in social class, they never married.  Eventually persuaded by his mother to accept a society marriage, he abandoned the women he called “The One.”  He wrote much of his despair over the decision, saying the experience caused in him a decreased sensitivity to any other pain.  Before long he broke off the engagement with his eleven year old fiance, converted to Christianity and became a priest.

As I continue to write about my friends I find that I’m drawn to people who are open, whose hearts perhaps feel too much.  John and Stacey, as different as they are, share a desire to be present, to affect the people in their lives.

I’d do well to follow their example.