In Life, Never Bank on the Outcome By Joe cFadden

Courtesy Joe cFadden Little Joe McFadden (COL ’02) sits next to his sister Sara.

I’m not very good at offering advice. I’ve never said anything worth repeating. Every wise-sounding phrase I know came from someone else, like my grandmother or Henry David Thoreau or even Big Bird.

Any lessons I’ve learned, I’ve borrowed from great people. And the greatest person I’ve met is an 81-year-old Jesuit in New York named Daniel Berrigan.

Berrigan was arrested in 1968 for storming into a selective service office and burning some draft files held there in protest of the Vietnam War. Since then, he’s been arrested more times than he cares to count, always for nonviolent protest.

I went to visit him about a year ago to interview him for a profile for the Voice. Some people called Berrigan a prophet and others called him crazy. I wanted to see which one he was.

In my own life, I struggle constantly with a profound sense of ambivalence. I want to dedicate my life to causes I believe in, but sometimes all I want is to be comfortable and secure. From what I know of Berrigan, he has never been comfortable or secure, and the world is a better place because of it. In a strange sort of way, meeting him was a test for me to see if there is something inside me that has what it takes to live that way.

So I rented a car and started driving to New York. I couldn’t wait to sit down with him and talk about war and religion, prisons and governments. I only had one little problem. Berrigan didn’t know I was coming.

I had tried to set up an interview with him. A month went by in the time it took to get his phone number. When I called, he hung up on me. A week later I called again, explained what I was doing and why I was writing. He politely declined an interview and then hung up the phone. I called again after a week and explained my story again. This time, he said he’d talk but he wanted to do it over the phone. He said I should call him in a week.

A week later, I rented a car.

I called him from the New Jersey Turnpike. I asked him one more time if it would be OK to do the interview in person. For some reason, he agreed and asked me when I could make it to his apartment. I said I’d be there in an hour.

Our interview was amazing, but there was something about him that I didn’t quite understand. At the end, I asked him how he could do the things he’d done, knowing some people would hate him, knowing he might go to jail. His answer, as simple as it was, had a profound impact on me.

“You can’t bank on the outcome,” he said. “You just have to do what you know is right.”

I left his apartment and came back to Georgetown. Toward the end of the school year, the Vice President for Student Affairs, Juan Gonzalez, set up a summer task force to address the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. I wasn’t particularly qualified for the task force and joining it was kind of an accident. I learned about things I never would have learned about otherwise, and what I learned surprised and upset me.

I’ve cited the statistics so many times, they almost feel cliche. They don’t feel like they tell a story anymore, and that makes me sad, because it is the story of my friends, their friends and me. LGBT youth are more likely than straight kids to commit suicide, to be depressed and lonely, to suffer from eating disorders and sexually transmitted infections. They are kicked out of their homes more often, take more time off school and transfer more.

Many people don’t realize that all of those things above are not a necessary part of their adolescent experiences. Depression, isolation and harassment are not things that should have to be suffered through. Not all LGBT youth have a hard time and a lot of straight kids do. But bad things happen too often, to too many people I know. I lost a lot of nights of sleep that summer.

So with some of my best friends and the coolest people I’ve ever met, we worked every day on improving resources for LGBT students. A resource center at Georgetown was, to us, the most comprehensive way of addressing the needs.

Sometime last fall, we were working on getting a petitioned signed. Although a lot of priests eventually added their names, for a while we didn’t have a single Jesuit’s signature.

One day, Daniel Berrigan was giving a talk in the ICC auditorium. At intermission, I went to talk with him about Catholic teaching and homosexuality. He didn’t recognize me. I told him briefly about our campaign for the resource center, and after his speech we asked him to sign the petition. His response was an echo of our earlier meeting.

“It’s not going to be easy to change things,” he said as he signed his name. “But don’t let that bother you. You’re doing what’s right.”

Now, months later, it’s time to graduate, and I still feel like I have too much to learn. But if I’ve learned anything at all, it’s that I need to follow that gut feeling even if it means driving to New York without an interview or spending sleepless months working towards a resource center that will never happen. In the end, it’s the only way I’d be happy with myself. Berrigan is pretty smart, just like my grandma, Henry David Thoreau and Big Bird.

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