As the year draws to a close and my time as an ASC mentor and teacher nears the end, I’ve been reflecting a lot on where we started and where I am now. I can vividly recall memories during Summer Orientation, way back in July, where it all began. Those were fun days: preparing ourselves for what it’s like to be a teacher and getting to know these new friends that would end up having a profound impact on my life. However, through the fun, I was understandably nervous. Truth be told, I wasn’t even sure what I was doing there. I felt this calling to pursue the year of service with ASC, but I didn’t know why. I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to get out of the year.
My first blog post emphasized this same feeling . . . my desire to get lost, to realistically lose control, and gain a complete trust in God. Well folks, be careful what you wish for because I can safely say that my wish came true. There were MANY moments this year when I felt lost…there still are! But as scary and frustrating as those moments may be, they are often the moments that guide me the most.
During Summer Orientation, we read a piece by David Foster Wallace titled “This is Water.” Starting as a commencement address he gave to Kenyon College in 2005, he later turned it into a short book. If you’ve never heard of it, I suggest you take the time to listen to the speech or read the full transcript of his words. For now, here’s a shorter video that uses segments of his speech along with cool visual displays to create a powerful experience.
After reading this, the message became a huge inspiration for me, especially as I began teaching this year. Wallace explores the subtle, uninteresting, often-overlooked beauty of life. Acknowledging that the day-to-day gets dull and repetitive and monotonous, he discusses how only through a conscious choice can we make our lives meaningful. He says it’s a decision on our part to look at the world in a cognizant manner, to perceive others, to develop emotions, to be alive. I think the greatest gift this ASC year has given me is that it has made me aware of this truth.
I’m not going to pretend that this year has been ordinary because it hasn’t. In fact, I could argue that it’s been one of the most extraordinary years I’ve ever had. But when I think about that which has made it so special, most of it comes in the daily routine. I got a sense of what it’s like to live an adult life, to experience the day-in and day-out. I know what it’s like to be tired and not want to leave my house in the morning, to grind through a week when I’m not sure if I have it in me. I know what it’s like to not want to go out on the weekends because I just want some rest and peace. I know what it’s like to feel lost. This year has been tough, it’s challenged me and stretched me. It’s taught me a lot about myself: my failings, fears, and insecurities. Yet, despite all of that, I have never felt more alive than I do now.
There is a famous quote from St. Irenaeus that says, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Us, truly ourselves, on fire with life, living every moment, this is what God desires. You bring God praise by being fully alive. Sure there are times, like I said above, where it might not feel like life is always perfect, but through it all, it’s important to be present. Getting excited about what I am teaching, building a relationship with those around me, being proud of my students’ accomplishments when they do well on a test or tell me a story of the amazing performance they had in a game, connecting with my colleagues to learn from the wisdom they have, and truly just loving the school and the students for whom I work, this is what allows me to feel fulfilled. It’s about finding passion and joy in everything I do, no matter how small and insignificant it may seem.
Wallace writes, “You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship . . . there is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.” As I journey through the day-to-day life of a teacher, this truth is so evident and it’s true for all people, no matter what we do. We can get caught up in the hustle and bustle, the stress of work, the exhaustion, and it can feel like a drag. Those times when I was lost, I could have used as an excuse to feel sorry for myself. Or as Wallace said, we can be present, find the miracle in each moment, focusing on that which makes us feel alive.
To me, that’s the people. I am forever grateful to those people who have inspired me and made me better: ASC 25 and specifically, my STL community, the St. Louis University High School faculty & staff, my students, my roommate Bradley Mueller, and my family that has supported me through it all. I’ll never be the same after this year.
This is my water.