Saturday, March 31, 2012
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
As I walked from my office at the college towards my classroom, the wind was blowing hard from the southeast as it always does here in the Rio Grande Valley. As fate and Murphy’s Law would have it, my classroom is about as far away from office as possible on our campus, so the walk doubles as exercise for me...and doubles again if I’m walking into the wind as I was this day. Usually I walk it alone, but this day was to be different.
As I left my office building, I saw Maria, a student in my class, walking across the parking lot ahead of me on her way to our classroom. I easily caught up to her with my long stride. As I joined her, I remarked about the amazing morning weather, the beauty of the sky and so forth. Then I asked her, “So, how is the semester going for you?”
She responded, “Well, it WAS going okay, but this week has been bad.”
She became quiet.
“Bad how?” I queried.
That was all she needed. Her uncle was supposed to be receiving his daughter (Maria’s cousin) home for the first time in over 20 years...but he had done “something really stupid” and now he was in jail somewhere in west Texas...and her cousin had come in yesterday from Minnesota...and her uncle is in jail and can’t even see his daughter...and the family is upset...and the cousin is upset—“It’s been a bad week.”
Maria poured out her heart over the seven minute walk to our classroom. This really surprised me since she is the quiet sort. She is usually in class, but doesn’t say much. She turns her work in, and she comes and goes, but we’ve never really said too much to each other...in spite of my attempts to draw her into classroom discussions and general chats about weather, weekends and what not. This day was different.
I listened earnestly, encouraged her as I could, and we finally arrived at the classroom. Maria seemed half attuned to the lecture and the following discussions...and I knew why. It didn’t matter—I was simply grateful that Maria had opened up to me, had shared something so personal from her life.
Class ended and out the door we went. Maria was the last to leave the classroom before me and seemed to walking a bit slowly, as if waiting for me. As I fell into step beside her, I again encouraged her about her family and told her that I hoped all would turn out well. A silence fell and I asked her what class she was headed for next.
“Anatomy and Physiology.”
“Oh,” I responded. “Are you going into nursing or something?”
“No, I’m going to be a dietician.”
Maria is not skinny. And, well...let’s just say that she’s a little short for her weight.
Now, I am no fool. There are some things a male just does not discuss with a female. There is no way that I was going anywhere near that sort of conversation! But, I was the fool after all because I wasn’t driving that conversation. Maria wanted to talk...and talk she did.
She began to tell me of her struggles with diets, how none of them have worked; she told me of her Mom and how she loves to cook ‘Mexican style’ with lots of tortillas and meat and oil and refried beans. She told me that her father has recently been diagnosed with diabetes...the adult onset type that came from his diet. She told me of how she has tried to exercise and how hard it is...and how she has stopped eating chocolate...how she wants to eat more fruit but her Mom doesn’t encourage her.
As a sane (and frightened!) man, I listened and nodded and encouraged her. We finally came to the library where she was going to study and I paused to allow her to go on in so that I could make my way to my office. But, she stopped and turned and talked, and talked, and talked another five minutes. Finally, she had to go and I had to go, so I offered my paltry, parting words of encouragement (“Persistence, Maria...you hang in there!”) and we went our separate ways....
We all have those times in our lives when we ask, “Is it worth it? Does my life really make a difference? Am I getting through at all?” We may go weeks, days—even months—with silence as the only response. I had been having those feelings as of late, wondering if anything in my life—my teaching, my attitude—was having an effect on anyone in my classes. And, then came Maria this day—a 19-year-old young lady who had no reason to share with me these intimate, private parts of her life, yet she obviously had seen something in me that gave her the confidence to open her life to me and invite me to have a glimpse into her painful and troubled world.
When I taught seminary in Mexico, I would tell my pastoral students that what Maria had done is called a ‘primer paso’...a sort of a ‘first step’ in the formation of something beyond the “hihowareya? relationship.” If someone will allow us access to this deeper part of their life, then perhaps they will one day bare their soul...and the emptiness of it. When that happens, we may have the chance to share with them what has filled our souls, what has changed and shaped our lives beyond measure.
I give thanks today for those ‘primer pasos,’ those first steps that others have taken in opening their lives to us. What an honor to be trusted with such a part of their lives. Now, I hope we may be ready to share with them—at just the right time—the Author of Life who fills us and gives our lives structure, meaning and purpose.