This month’s Agape Latte talk featured one of BC’s best and brightest, David Manzo ’77. To those who have never interacted with Professor Manzo before, there is one point I cannot stress emphatically enough: call him Dave. Aside from teaching PULSE electives on campus, Dave holds other such impressive titles as President of the Cotting School – a private, non-profit school for children with special needs in Lexington. Founded in 1893, it is the oldest day school for children with disabilities in the country. Dave is also a former executive director and current board member of COMPASS (Community Providers of Adolescent Services), which provides services to at-risk youth and families in the Boston community.
But Dave did not use this time to discuss his impressive career in the non-profit world. Instead, he reflected upon some of the people in his life who have impacted him. Dave’s talk was entitled “Back to the Future: Thanksgiving Edition,” and his intent was to look back to see what we can give thanks for. “For me, I see God entering our lives through other people,” Dave exclaimed. He went on to craft three short vignettes to provide some highly moving examples.
As a freshman at BC, Dave took PULSE, the well-known service-learning program that continues to thrive on campus today. Dave fulfilled his service requirement at CAP (Community Adjustment Programs) in the Roxbury neighborhood, which engaged at-risk youth involved in criminal activities. It was through this program that Dave first met Keith. Keith’s first words to Dave presented a challenge: “I hate white people.” Encountering his first racial confrontation, Dave didn’t necessarily feel ready to engage in his service: “I felt like I just had to run away,” he said. Dave had brought a pair of sneakers with him up in front of the room to symbolize this. But rather than run away, Dave kept going back. And with each day, the two learned more about each other. “I learned how to listen,” Dave emphasized. He was able to take Keith where he was, and Keith was soon able to understand Dave as well. His experience with Keith presented a more difficult path to find God – one that involves listening and not running away.
Dave went on to address Mark, a close friend of his who, due to a diagnosis with cancer, was forced to have his leg amputated. Despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacles in his life, Mark still found a way to cherish every moment and enjoy himself. He engaged in service at Haley House and even played as a pitcher on a softball team with Dave, pitching on one leg the entire time. Mark knew of his short life expectancy, but understood that he wasn’t living for himself alone, but others: “We’re all role models for somebody else,” Dave stressed. It was through Mark, Dave explained, that he learned how to see the face of God in others, as he referenced a line from Les Misérables: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
Finally, Dave talked about his mother: “You would have loved her,” he told the crowd. Two years before he was born, Dave’s mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, yet chose to bear and raise a child anyhow (“Thank you, Mom!” Dave exclaimed). As time went on and her condition worsened, the world became closed off to Dave’s mother, so she decided to bring the world to her by becoming a cook. Dave’s house became the place to be for leftovers in the neighborhood: “She could bring people together by cooking,” Dave explained. Based on what he learned from his mother, Dave learned not to look at peoples’ deficits, but to ask, “Can we see the strengths in each other?” His work in the Cotting School allows him to continue to keep that question alive.
It’s always easy to be thankful for the good times in your life. What is more difficult, is finding a means to be grateful for moments in which thanksgiving was delayed. Dave’s stories of adversity, discomfort, and uncertainty were, in retrospect, stories of love, thanksgiving and growth. In retrospect, these stories cemented Dave’s faith: through Keith’s anger, through the sadness and joy of Mark’s life, and through his mother’s adversity. Psalm 18:28 tells us, “My God turns my darkness into light.” The recent presidential election results have cast a shadow over the future for many who now fear for their lives because of their sexuality, ethnicity, and religious practices. May we all remember to “love our neighbor as ourselves” as Jesus taught. Perhaps the best joy that can be taken from this election is a newfound commitment to live by that motto more than ever before.