I am going to hold a pistol to the head of the Modern Man. But I shall not use it to kill him–only to bring him to life.
Innocent Smith in Manalive, GK Chesterton
The priest at Mass the other day posed the question: if it was possible to know, would you want to know when you would die?
As a melancholic, death is never too far from my mind and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While I don’t have strong feelings about the question one way or the other, I was thinking of some of the benefits of knowing when I would die, even if there is wisdom in not knowing. Sometimes, when death is clearly imminent, it compels us to truly embrace living. When our time is definitively short, we can move from passive existence to passionately experiencing life.
Is that type of wholehearted living reserved only for those who know death is at their door? Could I do that now? If people are able to live more when death comes close, could we just do now what we would do if we knew?
It made me consider how I would change my life if I knew the times of other events. Besides death, there are many other things that seem to be unknown yet shape how I live. For example, if I knew within the next year I would meet someone I would marry, would it change how I live? I believed that I would. What if it was five years, would that change how I live now? Yes, it would. What if I knew I would never get married? Again, yes.
And then I asked myself an important question: why?
Of course there was some stress involved, but the school year ended with fairly little fanfare and at a much slower pace than usual. No massive liturgies to plan for hundreds of people, no finals to prepare, no feeling like everything needs to happen right now. I fully understand that this pandemic is causing suffering for many people, but I can’t help but consider the blessings found in the midst of the difficulties.
For a variety of reasons, this school year was difficult in different ways. I found myself stressed and in continual need of a break. Many life-giving things were happening in my life, yet the breaks from school were never long enough, the time to relax never quite rejuvenating enough, my grasp on responsibilities never quite firm enough. After overcoming the initial stress of the transition, I slid into an indefinite period of teaching from home….relieved.
The time gave me the gift of reading a little more, enjoying the comforts of home much more, and the unchosen halt of many ministries. Things I could never say “no” to before (and I don’t generally have a problem saying no), like some work responsibilities, and things I enjoy, like prison ministry, were suddenly over or put on a long pause. While there was a sadness in missing some things, I mostly found the break to be good for me. And as a definite introvert, I was really okay with hours spent alone at home. With nine weeks of teaching from home wrapping up, I can honestly say I never got very sick of being at home. Sometimes staring at a computer screen was painful or the endless assignments that needed grading were unwelcomed. Despite all of that, the pandemic provided the opportunity to come up for a breath of much needed air.
School was called off for today before I even went to bed last night. It meant that my sister and I leisurely watched a movie and then talked for a while before curling up to fall asleep. This morning, the snow hadn’t started yet so I went out of the house for a couple of hours, returning as the snow began to lie thick on the roads. Ideally, though, I would have been still tucked away in my bed or perhaps snuggled on the couch with a cup of coffee as I turned through my latest book.
In high school, I was surprised when I heard that on snow days kids went to go hang out at the mall. For me, it was an unthinkable action. Why would I go out into the blustery weather when that was the exact reason I wasn’t at school? I also was gifted with a father who would have unquestionably smacked me with a hearty dose of common sense if I would have even asked to drive to town despite the weather. Being at home was actually what I wanted to do anyway. While I liked school, I didn’t mind a day of sleeping in and being home. The same still holds true as an adult.
I grew up slow.
By that, I mean, as I grew up, we moved slowly.
I look at the schedules my students have or the schedules of kids and it looks so different from my youth. In elementary school, I usually rode the bus home and I was there until the next day when I left for school. My mom made supper and we all ate together. Sometimes the older siblings were running off to practice or games, but we almost always ate supper around our dining room table.
My summers were quiet, too. Sometimes we explored the farm or watched too much TV or read book after book. But it was slow, with plenty of time and space for us to play in the hay loft or read through book lists with forty to fifty titles. It wasn’t perfection, although my memory tends to cast an overly rosy hue on the days of my childhood. However, it had the great beauty of not being rushed.
Recently, I came into possession of Alanna Boudreau’s “Champion” CD. And I’ve been listening to it on repeat pretty much since then. As with all CDs, there are some songs I like more than others and certain lines in songs that move me more than others.
Her song “Controlled Burn” is one of the songs on repeat a bit more than others and I want to highlight a couple of the lines that stand out to me.
“And I ache, I ache, I ache / When I see all the nothing / That could have been something / That should have been you”
This line is perhaps the most perfect summary of these months of summer and maybe even the past year. From the silent retreat near the beginning of summer to my sister’s home visit to being on the brink of school beginning, I have felt an ache for the nothingness that surrounds me. Sometimes I am a bit fearful about the judgment that will come at the end of my life and how I will need to answer for all of my time. The “nothing” that I did should have been replaced by the Lord, by perfectly following His will in all things. Someday I will regret that wasted time even more than I do now.
I’m not saying that every moment needs to be filled to the brim with productivity. Americans, however, aren’t particularly good at true leisure. We binge watch TV shows, waste time on our phones, and fastidiously document our lives on social media. Obviously, these are all generalizations, but our inability to truly embrace leisure is evident. So when I say I waste time, I don’t mean I neglected to work, work, work. Rather, I was isolated too much, preferring to spend time on my own rather than setting up numerous coffee dates or road trips or nights out with friends. As an introvert, it is an easy hole to fall into and an even easier one to justify. Continue reading “Controlled Burn: A Song of Longing”→
The short answer is no….but it will happen anyway. And, although it will be crazy, busy, and a bit stressful, I will be glad when I am back into the “routine” of school.
I am not, however, one of those people for whom breaks are too long and is itching to be back in school. At my young age, I’m quite certain I would make an excellent retired person…right now. I enjoy traveling, being at home, reading, sitting in the sun, attending Mass when the rest of the working world works, and whatever else it is that retired people do. I get a taste of it every summer and I believe I would do quite well with it as a full-time profession.
Yet there is a certain goodness about a new school year. As a teacher, I have the luck of starting over each year. There are new students (mostly), new energy (hopefully), and new faculty (always). Even as I dread a bit of the crazy that comes with a new year, I cannot entirely squelch the excitement of beginning again.
Each beginning offers a new chance to do better than I did before. And if you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that with me, there is always, always plenty of room for improvement. I plan for new ways to interest the students, new methods to interact with my staff, and new hope that this year I will be the missionary of the classroom that I deeply desire to be. The new school year is home to my litany of new year’s resolutions for my teaching life. Continue reading “The Anticipation of New Beginnings”→
A lovely perk of teaching is that most of my work stops in mid to late-May and resumes in early to mid-August. It is a schedule I have held since I was about seven years old when I started school. Since I have never known anything else, I sometimes have to remind myself that this is not the norm.
People frequently ask me what my plans are for the summer. Sometimes they are curious about where I am traveling or what extra activities I will be involved in. Other times, however, I think they are questioning why I am not getting a job for the summer. Isn’t that what adults do? This lingering question is also mixed with the slight jealousy that I have a few months to not work a 9 to 5 job. I wish I had a job like that, I can almost hear them say.
Well, I’ve decided on a newer tactic this year. If people comment on wishing they had the luxurious schedule that I have, I will tell them a little secret: this dream can be yours, too! All you need to do is go to school, get the appropriate degree, and get a job teaching. Last I heard, there wasn’t a surplus of teachers in our state and teaching here doesn’t require advanced degrees.
But, you see, that is the thing–there just might be a reason schools aren’t overflowing with insane numbers of candidates, at least not where I live. I do get a summer to step away from it all, but that is a perk that must be taken with the less preferable parts of the job. I never argue that I have the most difficult or demanding job in the world. I don’t believe that I do. Yet I hear over and over again from various intelligent people, “I could never do your job.” Which I think is slightly exaggerated, but also quite telling. I think many people could do the job I do, it is simply that many don’t want to. Continue reading “In Defense of Summers”→
Do you know what it takes to get a compliment from a senior? You keep them after class under the threat of a detention and listen to them try to get out of it.
Some students are just harder to love than others. It isn’t impossible to love them, but the effort that goes into desiring to love them is significantly more. So when a student that fits in this category pushes matters too far, I have to reflect more about the consequences that behavior should incur. Because part of me wants to go all out and give them a harsh consequence. The cumulation of past difficulties with that student or the tension of the particular day must all be weighed to guarantee that the punishment given fits that individual crime.
Yet I’m certain that just as some students are harder by nature to love, some teachers must fall into the same camp. I can definitely acknowledge that I’m not the most loved teacher and I am pretty convinced that I never will be. That doesn’t generally bother me because I’ve experienced life in a rather similar state. High school and college didn’t find me as the most popular person around; therefore, I didn’t expect something magical to happen when I started teaching.
Despite not being the most loved, I do find comfort in being loved by some. As an introvert, that is all I really need anyway–a few people who see under the often reserved exterior. Those glimpses of love and appreciation from students does far more to boost me than they know. At the end of the school year, a student stopped in with a present for me and she thanked me for my patience over the past year. A few students wrote appreciation letters when given the chance for teacher appreciation week. Another student chose to write his own addition to the journal entries I assigned.
I’ve spent a great deal of the summer considering how this next school year will unfurl. Each fall, I start with the hopes that this will be the best year ever. And, in many ways, that has largely proven to be true. The more I teach, the more confident I feel teaching. The longer I am there and the more experiences I have, the more prepared I feel to handle future problems and situations. Yet despite all of my preparations and extra reading I do during the summer, one thing is certain: I will never be perfectly prepared for every question they ask me.
Honestly, I think I am able to answer most of the questions that arise in the classroom. If I have never considered the question or even heard the answer, I am surprised how often I am able to give an answer anyway. I’m not lying to them or just trying to look smart. I’ve come to realize that the longer one knows the Lord and studies His Church, the better one is able to think with the mind of the Church. So even if that question has never been posed to me before, I can often give a pretty confident answer because I have come to know and understand the Church to a degree.
There is, however, a lingering concern that I will be unable to answer a question. Or, worse yet, that my lack of knowledge will appear to mean that the Church has never considered that question or that her theology is found wanting. Regarding those fears, I think back to the summer before my first year of teaching. I was presenting these concerns to a trusted priest and he asked if I thought that a student could ask a question that the Church couldn’t answer or that would prove her wrong. I told him that I was certain the Church had answers and that I trusted her to be true in all things she affirmed as true. For him, that was the end of it. So what if I didn’t know the answer? I knew the Church had an answer and I was fairly confident I could find it if needed.
For the last five years, that is what I have sought to do. To a generation that I struggle to understand, I have striven to present truths they struggle to find relevant or accurate. I ask them to consider the truths of the Church and they echo Pilate by saying, “What is truth?” They question if it matters to know the truth. They ask if everything could be true. And I try to use logic and personal examples to show them the beauty of knowing and pursuing the truth. Continue reading “Teaching: To Pursue The Truth Together”→
I have a friend who once said that some things are cliché because they are true. Phrases that seem trite and overused are sometimes the best way to say what we want to say. They have become clichés because they express a truth like nothing else really can.
At times, I fight against what it seems a lot of people like or consider to be the best. But sometimes, it is because it is actually good that so many people rave about specific things. On Facebook, I’ve seen quite a few people talking about how much they loved the show “This Is Us.” With the school year wrapped up, I decided to give it a try.
I don’t think a show has ever pulled at my heart as much as this one has.
I love how they portray the complexity of the human heart. In this show, families are messy, imperfect, and crucial to our own identity. As the show unfolds, perfect facades crumble to reveal that everyone is striving to get through life doing the best they can and making numerous mistakes along the way. It is very human, which makes it simultaneously beautiful and frustrating. Though the families can be chaotic, a theme interwoven in the show is the importance of family. Whether they are blood relations or adopted family, the experiences we have in our homes shape how we interact with the rest of the world.
In a world that seems to insist that families can be replaced with technology or friend groups, it is refreshing to see families upheld as the place where we grow, change, and become who we are. Imperfect families, with parents fighting their own struggles and children feeling their own unique pains, are the places that shape us and show us how to love. “This Is Us” doesn’t claim that all families are perfect or should be perfect. I would say they are simply claiming that the role of family is irreplaceable. Continue reading “This Is Us”→
Change in oneself is often difficult to pinpoint. Growth can seem nearly nonexistent. Sometimes it is only after a decent length of time that we can begin to point out areas where we are different. Ah-ha! Something has changed! Finally!Continue reading “Change”→