The Veil is Thin
You can see I'm not kidding. The veil is very thin, so thin that there in the photo of the famous Dr. Jon Benedict Syren, the veil (he's holding it, can't you tell?) is so thin it's entirely transparent. It's a kind of gift Jon has, his super power, to reduce the so thin veil between heaven and earth to mere atmosphere.
Actually I'm joking when I call him "the famous Dr." because Jon never made it to his med school graduation, but I like the sound of it ("the famous Dr. Jon B. Syren") because it reminds me of Joe Cool and the other great Snoopy persona, "the famous WWII flying ace." Jon Syren was Joe Cool, he was (or would have been) the famous WWII flying ace - he was unstoppable, just the most virtuous, balanced, hilarious Eskie talkin fool for Christ that any of us who know him ever have had the privilege to know. I'm willing to qualify that slightly. If any of us who know him also had the blessing of knowing St. John Paul II, I'd say they were equally cool. Okay, maybe Jon was slightly more awesome, but just slightly. It's a close race between the holy Polish pontiff and the saintly Alaskan husband and father, and since sanctity isn't really a competition, we'll let it go for now.
But wait. You may not have known Jon when he walked this planet, and you may be wondering what he's doing here at Miss Marcel's Musings. Well, today is Jon's feast day, his entry-into-Real-Life day, his birthday into heaven (as well as his daughter's 5th wedding anniversary!), so he definitely merits a post, if not a whole blog of his own.
I met Jon in September of 1983 when we both started as freshmen at Thomas Aquinas College. Jon was the 4th or so in his family to attend TAC. They lived in Alaska and he and brother Lester were late for the start of school that year, having driven down from Alaska in a little Toyota that would become a courier for many Legion of Mary visits, and a fabulous transport for large numbers of students happy to get off campus (thanks to the lack of seat belt laws in those days, and the freedom to ride in truck beds). The brothers were late for school because they'd been at their brother Kermit's ordination to the priesthood before they set off on their journey south. They were late, but better late than never was never truer than in their case.
My classmate Angela was particularly anxious for them to arrive. She'd first fallen in love with Jon in 7th grade when her military dad was stationed up in Alaska and she was in Junior Legion of Mary with Jon (while her mom was in the grown-up group with Jon's mom Kim). That Jon didn't share her crush was not a problem. Their time would come.
Freshmen year brought many blessings to me and my classmates. Not least of all were the kindred spirit soul mate friendships that developed, most notably for me among a group that we came to name The Awesome Fivesome, four of whom were myself and my roommate Jackie Ford (we were the happy twins) and Angela and Jon, who later became, the summer after we graduated, Mr. and Mrs. Jon Syren.
There's Jon Syren, TAC grad . . . I never realized it, but doesn't he look a bit like Matt Damon? As to how he sounded, well it depends on what he was trying to communicate. If it was the first month of seminar, he sounded like a variety of animals. I'm not kidding! Dr. Tom Dillon, our esteemed tutor, had to keep Jon after class one night to instruct him in proper seminar audio expression: "No animal noises, please, Mr. Syren." If he was goofing around with Short-man, Jon sounded like an Eskie. If he was doing the ginsu knife commercial with his brother Les, a Japanese accent was in order. And finally, if he was just his very kind, cool, regular self, well I've always thought he sounded a little like Randy Travis, but that's just my opinion.
More important than how he sounded was what he said, and since we were just doing "one holy maxim is enough to make one a saint," I think I'll go with two (as I said in the post below, one is just way too few!) of Jon's favorite expressions. Ready? Jon Syren, the man, the friend:
"God is so good."
That's a holy maxim I use almost daily. I think I might choose it for the one to make me a saint! But then I love, too, his oft repeated:
"Success is not where it's at."
I love especially that this second holy maxim came from someone who spent the summers between our college years doing pre-med so he could pursue his dream, vocation, and mission to become an obstetrician/gynecologist and help restore dignity to women - without waiting any longer than he had time, without wasting a second, though he didn't realize how short his earthly life would be. I think it's safe to say that even if he'd lived among us in the flesh for another 7 decades (that would have made him near 100), his life on earth would've still been too short.
He did begin to fulfill his dreams when he married Angela on the Feast of Our Lady's Coronation in 1987, and with the birth of their daughter and son (who would've been the first of many, and thanks to God's infinite love did become the first of many, though their 7 siblings came later, after Angela remarried a second saintly man, thankfully one who is still aomng us!). And finally, his dream of being a doctor began coming true with his attendance in the WWAMI program - but as I looked up the spelling of this medical educational program, I realized I'm re-inventing the wheel by trying to tell you about Jon without resorting to his official bio. Here's what it says on WWHAMI's page for the Jon B. Syren award:
Jon Benedict Syren expected to graduate from the University of Washington School of Medicine in the Class of 1993. He began his medical training in Anchorage, Alaska, in the fall of 1989 as a member of the first class of WWAMI students enrolled in the Biomedical Program at the University of Alaska Anchorage. While at Seattle during his third year of medical school, Jon developed a cancer that took his life ten months later in Anchorage on August 3, 1992. He left a wife and two children.
Jon, the youngest of eight children, was born in Anchorage on July 16, 1965, where he attended Abbott Loop School and Service High School. After earning a bachelor's degree at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California, he finished his premedical education at the University of Alaska Anchorage. During his medical training, Jon distinguished himself by earning honors in several categories of studies, both in Anchorage and Seattle. He is also remembered by those who knew him for his strong commitment to his family and his faith, and for his unflagging courage and equanimity in the face of personal adversity.
The Jon B. Syren Award recognizes a first-year medical student in the University of Alaska Anchorage WWAMI School of Medical Education who has demonstrated personal qualities of character, integrity, and compassion, combined with a commitment to and promise of community service in medicine. The student must also be in good academic standing.
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Not a bad track record for one who seemingly advised against success . . . but Jon's secret was in pursuing sanctity - the Kingdom of God, or by another name: Love - rather than world wide fame and fortune, power, popularity, and all the other things that people often mean by "success." Not surprisingly, according to the words of Our Lord, by pursuing first the Kingdom of Heaven, Jon was given "all other things besides."
I've had the inestimable grace to be with Angela and her husband Jack and their family for this 26th anniversary of his death, this 26th feastday, and it's been a feast indeed. As Angela says often, "The veil is thin." And wow, that deserves third place in my holy maxim list, because she is so right! The Communion of Saints is one of my favorite mysteries, more and more visible to me as I realize how close Heaven is to earth. Really, with Jesus in the tabernacle and coming to us in Holy Communion, the Kingdom of God is absolutely among us. And then, as Angela and Jack and Jon demonstrate so very visibly, the work of the saints continues day in and day out, with fruit beyond counting, beyond measure.
Thanks Jon B. Syren! Thanks Jack and Angela! Thank You, Jesus, for letting me live with the saints!
If you want to get to know Jon, ask for a sunflower - it's his sign of his presence, just like the rose is for St. Therese. And if you want a favor today (or just a sunflower to mark the beginning of a new friendship or the renewing of an old one with Jon), ask away, and tell him Suzie sent you. He never refused me any favor I needed back in the day, nor in all these few years since.
We may have a while before we meet him face to face, and in the meantime, life is short and we have plenty of souls to save (not least of all our own!), so let's get to it! Nothing too big or scary - remember, success is not where it's at, but God is so good that He will surely answer our happy plea:
Draw me, we will run!
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I've written books and articles and even a novel. Now it's time to try a blog! For more about me personally, go to the home page and you'll get the whole scoop! If you want to send me an email, feel free to click "Contact Me" below. To receive new posts, enter your email and click "Subscribe" below.