Maybe I’ll Climb Into My Classroom Through the Ceiling From Another Teacher’s Room

Maybe I’ll Climb Into My Classroom Through the Ceiling From Another Teacher’s Room

GK Chesterton wrote Manalive, a novel that revealed his desire to gaze at the world through a life-giving haze of wonder and awe. I was reminded of this recently at a talk and it made me reflect on the stories that he speaks of taking place in the fictional life of Innocent Smith.

(If you haven’t read the book and want to, you should probably stop here because I need to ruin a few points in order to reveal what is so attractive about his life. This is your warning. Stop here! Proceed no further. Or, if you don’t care, carry on.)

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Holding Up the Falling Apart

How do we transform a culture?

I have very few ideas but I see a great need for it to take place.  When I see the hardened, embittered faces of my students as we have a discussion about something the Church teaches, there is a tendency to despair.  How can these youth of 17 or 18 already have such a distaste for a Church I love so ardently?  It is hard to determine if this is the fruit of their teenage angst and rebellion or if it is the result of a culture that is paganizing our youth right in front of us.

And who is to blame?  I know it isn’t necessary to point the finger.  Maybe it isn’t even helpful.  But there must be someone who is failing which leads to us having this mounting problem.  Is the school failing?  What is the responsibility of the school in regards to nourishing the faith?  Is the parish failing?  How much is the result of poor catechesis from the parish and diocese?  Are the parents failing?  How much is blamed on the parents not modeling the faith for their children and how much is due to their own faulty knowledge of the Church and her teachings?

I don’t know who is mainly to blame but I do know that we all reap the negative consequences of a society that is becoming increasingly pagan.  And if a specific group isn’t doing their expected share, there must be a way for the others to step up and help fill in the gaps.  Obviously it would be ideal for the main education to come from parents who are ardently in love with their faith and on fire for Jesus Christ.  In this ideal world they would also be supported by wonderful extended families, solid priests, evangelizing parishes, and a diocese that takes holiness seriously.  And of course this would include authentically Catholic elementary, middle, and high schools as well as universities and religious orders.

Somewhere, though, the ball is getting dropped.  The result is that I face a classroom full of seniors in high school who already seem jaded and hard-hearted.  (Not all of them, granted.)  It seems almost like a futile effort.  I feel so easily frustrated and hurt when they express a disdain for the Church.  They eye her suspiciously and know that she must be looking for ways to box them in, for ways to steal their joy and fun.  And with this mentality there seems to be little I can do to sway them.

The other day I found myself talking to one of my senior classes about the Church’s teaching on homosexuality.  Their faces were hard and critical.  A few had smug looks or mocking smirks.  My heart ached for them, trapped in their culturally indoctrinated mindset.  How do I reach them?  How do I explain that the Church is not bent on hatred but solely on love?  How can I shatter their misconceptions of the Church?  So I told them that even if they don’t understand what the Church teaches, even if they don’t agree with what the Church teaches, that they strive to believe that the Church loves them and desires the best for them.  She isn’t trying to think of rules to trap them but is giving them guidelines to live in true and authentic freedom.  Trust that she is acting out of love and not like a tyrant.  Because that changes everything.

There is a delicate balance between realizing it doesn’t rely on me and yet desiring enough to do what I can with what the Lord has given me.  Because it is so easy for me to simply chalk the world up to ridiculous and then retreat to my Catholic bubble.  But this world falling apart does affect me.  Even if I try to isolate myself from it all, it will impact my life because it is impacting the world and I live in it.  And hopefully someday I will have kids and I cannot simply tell them to hide from the world for their entire lives.  Jesus said something that seems to contradict that lifestyle.  Something about being light and salt to the world.  The Lord has given me a mission and it is my duty to fulfill that mission to the best of my ability.  So when I try and the world still seems to all fall apart, I can rest in the knowledge that God knows, God cares, and God has a plan.  Even the falling apart is resting in His hands.

The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,
as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no.”

And tonight the heavy earth is falling

away from all other stars in the loneliness.

We’re all falling. This hand here is falling.

And look at the other one. It’s in them all.

And yet there is Someone, whose hands

infinitely calm, holding up all this falling. 

Rainer Maria Rilke     

One airport smile at a time

I love the sea of humanity that is found swimming in airports across the world.  People remain far more interesting than we give them credit for.  Most of the time I claim to be too busy to people-watch and oftentimes I don’t go to places swarming with people, so as to keep with my hermit-like tendencies.  But the airport is one of the very best places to watch people.

There is a strange joy that fills me when I am able to be smiley and joyful in a sea of people.  Some are walking by, oblivious to the world around them, others look harried and rushed, others couldn’t care less that you exist, and the categories stretch onward.  Yet I am struck by their humanity.  Perhaps that doesn’t explain anything at all.

Let me see.  There was the woman with the small child that sat next to me briefly at one of the gates.  She was beautiful, in a tired, motherly sort of way and looked a bit older than I would have expected.  Her daughter was gorgeous, smiling and capturing the attention of others around her.  Her mother was attentive to her, making certain that she didn’t wander into the dangerous traffic flowing past the different gates.  The girl was learning to walk and would run from her mother….fall on the floor…begin again with as quick of steps as she could muster…fall to the floor…start crawling away.

Then there was the man who took a seat in a corner on the ground.  He arranged his electronics in front of himself and seemed fairly absorbed in them.  The little girl saw him from a few feet away, looked at him with interest, and began the journey to him.  Stopping a little bit away from him, she looked at him until he noticed her.  The smile spread quickly across his face and she mirrored him.

A woman stops in the middle of the walkway, trying to figure out where she is going.  She is completely unaware that a little car that transports the elderly/disabled around the airport is right behind her.  And is laying on its horn.  For a couple seconds she is completely still, lost within herself, and the man is beeping the horn, mere inches behind her.  Finally she notices and steps out of the way.

The three men seated next to me at the gate in Chicago are discussing their line of work.  It revolves around computer or system programming for some company.  They travel often.  Most of the time is spent complaining about their bosses or comparing hotel rooms that they are set up in.  One man often stays at the Marriott and another gets the Country Inn and Suites.  Apparently the Holiday Inn is considered low class, too.

A young woman is bound for Tennessee to visit a college.  She briefly inquires if she is at the right gate to a middle-aged woman near her.  That was the entrance into a conversation that lead to the couple’s little girl chattering away to the young lady and talking until their seats in the airplane disrupted them.

Pilots walk by in uniform, pulling behind them expertly packed luggage.  A flock of flight attendants regroup before heading to their next destination.  A worker sweeps up some debris from the carpet and smiles at me when I catch her eye.  A couple walks by, each pushing a stroller, trying to get where they need to go on time.  A woman gazes critically at the ticket counter and remarks about the poor design to me…and to the lady at the desk when she finally gets there.  The lady says a man probably designed it.

Over the intercom a voice announces that first class passengers can now board.  Brian Regan quotes flood my mind as I watch people crushing each other to run out of the plane, as a fervor fills people to get to where they need to go with no mind for what others may be doing, as the desk asks for people to check their oversized luggage planeside.

A man behind me keeps cooing to something/someone and I narrow the options down to a dog or a child.  He has a dog.  I smile at the airport security and anticipate what they will ask of me.  Trying to catch her eye, I smile at the lady at the desk who seems to be a little frazzled yet kind.  I inquire about how his/her day is going when a security officer asks how my day is.

The days I spent in the airport I felt happy and kind.  With this joy, I felt a desire to spread it and be kind to others.  At different points I realized that while I wasn’t changing the world in some huge way, hopefully my mere smile was encouraging someone or speaking words I didn’t know or have.  I often wonder, “Do they know I follow Christ?  Can they tell?  Do they think something is different about me?  Do they notice?”  This should be me every day, not just when I feel like being happy or kind.  But it is a good reminder.  I need to look for the humanity dwelling within the crowd teeming with people.  And in seeing the person, to affirm their individuality and their personhood with the only thing I can in a one second encounter: a smile.