How Julia Kasdorf
changed my life
By Daniel Shank Cruz
In March of the year I turned 19, Julia Kasdorf came to
Goshen College for a few days to speak in convocation, do a poetry reading at
the Electric Brew and give a lecture on Harold S. Bender and Marilyn Monroe.
Being a fan of Julias, I went to the convocation (witty and much more
interesting than most other GC convos) and the reading at the Brew with some
friends. The Brew was absolutely packed for the reading. There must have been
close to 300 people in attendance. My friends and I got there about five minutes
before the reading was supposed to start, and the only space we could find to
sit was right up against the microphone where Julia would be reading. Any time
we wanted we could have smacked her on the leg if we hadnt liked what
she was saying. But of course we didnt do that because the reading was
excellent and highly enjoyable and we went home raving about how awesome Julias
poetry was and how we wished she would have read for another hour.
With the awesome reading at the Brew fresh
in my mind, I decided to go to Julias lecture that Saturday night even
though it sounded rather boring and I didnt know who H.S. Bender was and
didnt really care about what he had to do with Marilyn Monroe. But I didnt
have anything else to do and I was hoping for a chance to buy one of Julias
books, so I went. The lecture took place in Newcomer Center 17 and was, relatively
speaking, also packed. About 100 people were there including all of the Goshen
heavyweights (J. Lawrence Burkholder, Theron Schlabach, J.R. Burkholder, C.J.
Dyck), though I didnt know at the time who any of them were. There were
surprisingly few students in attendance, which made me feel rather self-conscious,
but the mixture of students and nonstudents gave the atmosphere an electric,
I had first encountered Julia Kasdorf a little
less than a year earlier during my senior year of high school when my academic
adviser and good friend Pete Dula invited her to come and give a poetry reading
one evening at Lancaster Mennonite High School. I decided to go to the reading
because one of my teachers offered to give some extra credit for attending,
and I also didnt want to disappoint Pete by not being there since hes
the kind of guy who is so cool you hate to disappoint him because to do so would
be like telling your mom you were running off to join the Hare Krishnas and
wouldnt be home for Christmas. Once Julia began reading I was profusely
glad that I had chosen to come; her poetry was powerful and spoke of mysterious
things that provoked a subtle aching in my young Mennonite soul. Afterwards
copies of Eves Striptease were on sale for only $10 and I thought
about buying one but my Mennonite bargain-hunting instincts failed to kick in
so I didnt buy one because I was going to college in the fall and needed
to be frugal.
A few weeks later, Pete, myself, and 17 other
LMH students, many of them good friends of mine, took a four-day trip to a Cistercian
monastery in Massachusetts as a part of LMHs minicourse program. We spent
a lot of time interacting with the monks, learning about their lives at the
monastery, how they had felt Gods call to become monks, why they worshipped
the way they did (they held seven worship services per day, the first at 3:15
in the morning and the last at 7:30 in the evening) and why they believed separation
from the world was a legitimate Christian lifestyle. Most of us disagreed with
the monks seclusion from the world because we thought it directly contradicted
the Great Commission, and, besides that, we were all young and idealistic and
not yet jaded by college and the real world and we wanted to go out and make
a difference for Christ, which was something that we didnt think the monks
were doing. But we found the monks to be immeasurably cool, nonetheless,
because of their amazing sense of community and down-to-earth nature.
While we were at the monastery we stayed in
a roomy, sun-lit guesthouse, a wonderful place to hang out with one another
when we werent with the monks. We talked together about the future and
what we wanted to do with our lives, and we talked about theology and what it
meant to be a Christian, and we stayed up to all hours of the night trying to
bake edible cookies for the monks and one night the guys had a contest to see
who had the hairiest butt. We also read out loud to each other from Petes
copy of Eves Striptease. I remember trying to read Sinning
out loud because I thought I was cool and it wouldnt faze me to say [an
expletive] but when I said it I began laughing and couldnt stop. The others
thought this was quite funny. We had a good four days together, learning about
community and being silly with one another.
I know that I was not thinking about these
memories at all the night Julia gave her lecture on Bender and Monroe, but in
hindsight I wonder if in some subconscious way they helped to shape what I experienced
that night. Julias lecture dealt with the acculturation of Mennonites,
which she illustrated by talking about the connection between Bender and Monroe:
both died in 1962, and Bender is alleged to have reported Monroes death
to the Mennonite World Conference which was held in Kitchener, Ontario, that
year (I remember being quite angry with Theron Schlabach when during the question
and answer time after the lecture he asserted that this fact was
most likely not historically accurate). As she began the lecture everything
was quite normal; I paid attention and it was rather interesting and even humorous
at times. But as Julia continued to speak about the Mennonite world and how
it was changing, my body started to tingle and I felt as though she was speaking
directly to me. I cannot fully put into words how I felt. I was scared, I wanted
to cry, I wanted to rip my teeth out, I didnt know what I wanted to do.
I knew something profound was happening, that I was being given a new identity
as a Mennonite, though I did not yet know what that identity was. Suddenly 475
years of history were being placed on my shoulders like a huge mountain and
I was being called to carry it.
After Julia finished the lecture there was
a question and answer period which was interesting but nothing in comparison
to the magic of the lecture since it had left me dazed and numb. Afterwards
copies of Benders biography by Al Keim were on sale for $18 instead of
the usual $24, and this time my Mennonite instincts did not fail me; I bought
a copy and began to discover my new identity.
Over the next two years I began to study the
history of Mennonites and to look for my place within the Mennonite tradition.
I got acquainted with some of the Goshen heavyweights and learned from them.
I embraced my Swiss-German Mennonite ethnicity. Then in January of my third
year of college Julia came back to Goshen to do another reading at the Brew.
She also visited my Mennonite Literature class. We asked her questions about
being a Mennonite poet and in the course of the conversation Julia asked if
people thought Kasdorf was a Mennonite name. And then, after no
one answered in the affirmative, she did something I will treasure forever.
She misunderstood the spelling of my last name but in reality she named me in
a most appropriate way. She said, Kasdorf isnt a Mennonite name,
its Mennonite Brethren. But Kruse, now thats a Mennonite
Daniel Cruz, born in Bronx, N.Y., is the son of Jesus
and Miriam (Shank) Cruz of Lancaster, Pa.; he considers Goshen to be his home.
A 1998 graduate of Lancaster Mennonite High School, Cruz is a Bible and religion
major and Anabaptist-Mennonite Studies minor, involved in the Mennonitica Club
and a Bible study group. He is a member of College Mennonite Church.
Return to June Bulletin
Commencement rites by Rachel
darling, dont drop! by President Shirley H. Showalter
Ryan Kolb, Andrea Troyer, Joel Jimenez, Lora Nafziger, Greg Stahly, Melody Bennett,
Deana Landis, Alicia Montoya and Rachel Glick
choice by Joni S. Sancken 98
A lifetime in family business:
What Ive learned by Leonard Geiser 57 with Rachel Lapp
Allon H. Lefever by Ryan Miller
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