Being a Human Being, or “I Don’t Know Anything”

Lonely Rocking Chair by Lisa Ouellette at Flickr

“I am such a do-er”

It was a recent Sunday afternoon, and I was just sitting in the hard rocking chair in the otherwise comfortable and bright meeting room of the Campus Ministry center, when my knowledgeable and eminently capable colleague turned to me. “Anything to add?” she asked. The 13 leaders of the upcoming retreat for first-year students stared at me expectantly, as if the lone Jesuit among them might have some great piece of spiritual advice to offer, some pearl of wisdom to cast before them. I leaned over and, in my best stage whisper, replied: “I don’t know anything.” Everyone laughed. But it was true.

It was as true as any of the experiences the students had shared earlier in the meeting – about their time abroad, or their struggles during their own first years. After all, I’m the new guy at work, and I don’t know anything. Of this new place, these new people, I know not – and it is challenging.

I don’t know who the influential but kindly faculty members are, or the name of the staff person who swipes ID cards in the dining hall – you know, the one who is a cult figure among the students. (I’m assuming this; there seems to be one at every Jesuit college.) I don’t know what corners of the beautiful campus are favorite hangouts for studying students, or where staff members sit during the lunch hour, or which bricks might be loose on the path from the campus center to the chaplains’ office where I work. I don’t know the processes here – who to see for what, and what to do when. (Never mind about why, I’m still learning how.) All of this leaves me feeling like I can’t do much here; not yet. And I’m such a do-er.

***

But after a recent late night Sunday Mass I found myself back in the chaplains’ office meeting room, where a small group of students were listening to music, ostensibly while studying. I ducked my head in. “Is that Sara Bareilles’ new album?” I asked. “It is!” they gleefully shouted back. I came in and sat with them for an hour or so, each of us suggesting recent songs – “have you heard this one?” – and cueing them up on sticker-covered computers and brightly colored iPhones. We swooned liberally as we listened to an acoustic version of “I Choose You,” and laughed heartily when someone pulled up a video of Kristen Chenoweth singing with a fan recently at the Hollywood Bowl. Before we knew it the work-study student needed to lock up. As I got up from that same rocking chair I wondered, where did the time go?

That night I wasn’t doing any office work; indeed, I still didn’t know anything about how campus ministry work is done here, but that hardly seemed to matter. I had outed myself as a great devotee of female singer-songwriters and show tunes, and was able just to be with this group of young students by sharing of my experiences, my interests, my self.

I still want to do much here, to be productive and giving. But on that night of shared music and laughter, I realized anew the importance of just being. And as I walked home I began to recognize that the invitation to be so often rides in tandem with my desire to do, and would overtake it, if I’d only let it.

“I don’t know anything” I’d said, and they laughed.  There’s great freedom in being able to admit it – a freedom to be a human being, not a human doing.

 

***

The cover image, by Flickr user Jamesy Peña, can be found here.

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