When I was a freshman at Villanova University, I signed up for a class called Introduction to Peace and Justice Education. It addressed the question, "How, in this violent world, can we walk in harmony?" The professor: a 6'2", 65-year-old ex-marine and priest named Father Ray Jackson. On the first day, he assigned us a paper on our heroes. I wrote about Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, and Gandhi. After Father Ray read my paper, he called me over to tell me that most of the class had written about Lee Iacocca or Madonna.
Father Ray became my mentor. I spoke with him every day, and we often had lunch together. Thanks in part to his influence, I decided to become a human rights lawyer, and I was well on my way when, in my junior year, I took an acting class. The minute I performed my first monologue, I fell madly in love. But I wondered: How can I break it to Father Ray?
"I'm thinking about not going into law," I said. Father Ray and I were having lunch in the cafeteria, empty except for a few kitchen staffers. "I'm thinking about going into acting." Then I went on about how I doubted I could ever help the world as an actor. He smiled and waited for me to finish. "You serve best by doing the thing that you love most," he said. "Follow your bliss." Father Ray died shortly after I finished school, and I went to New York to pursue my dream.
Father Ray's advice changed my life. I even named my son Jackson after him. But as I started to write this essay, I had another breakthrough: I didn't really know Father Ray. Had he ever had his heart broken? What was his favorite childhood memory? He gave his love and counsel unconditionally. I took these things from him, but I was too busy sorting out my own life to try to know their source. Suddenly, at the age of 38, I understood that giving your time and attention to those you love is the greatest thing you can do on this earth.
Last week I was in New York shooting a film. Instead of spending my day off relaxing, shopping, or attempting to date for the first time in a year and a half, I went to Philly to see my dad. He'd been sick, and he looked about 20 years older than he had a month earlier. We walked down the street, locking arms, and had a cup of coffee. We didn't say much, just shared some time. And that was the point. I'm a full-time working mother in the middle of moving houses. Life goes so fast, and there is so much to do. But the moments that have enriched my life the most came when I slowed down and connected with the people I care about. I could go on and on about this, but my 4-year-old wants me to help him build a fort with the boxes piled up in our new living room.