Everything I need is arranged in front me: the books, the notes, the always present blue Bic Atlantis pen. I’ve read the required homework assignments. I’ve thought about the ideas offered to me, I took notes, I was prepared. The hour hand on the clock moves into position and it’s time to begin. My eyes look up, my posture at attention. The coffee I brought with me smells of morning rituals and accomplishment. Then the moment arrives, like slow motion, the professor opens her mouth, sound reverberates into the air in the form of words, pens wake-up from their desks and ready for use; class is underway. I feel good! I am ready!
And then it happens.
The enthusiasm I had for class vanishes. One, two, four, now five minutes have passed! What I thought I understood was further from me than I initially believed. I really have no idea what I read! I have no clue what anyone is saying! Memories of going through school reveal themselves. The mad struggle to complete simple assignments. All the time battling learning disabilities. Being constantly teased by students and shamed by teachers for the way words and numbers appeared to me. And the stress it all had on my parents.
I start to imagine myself a failed Jesuit, unable to to live-up to whatever “Jesuit” means. If I cannot comprehend what is being discussed in this classroom how can I possibly be of service to anyone? “I don’t belong here,” I flatly say to myself.
Praying that night after a rough day in class I remembered a man named Joseph. Joseph’s a late 40-something who stood in front of an audience of about 30 people to share stories of his life. He recounted friends and strangers he’d met, the joys of being in particular places with certain people, and he regularly referred to the bar he frequented. As he spoke I recognized similarities in his life compared to my own. Even the seemingly insignificant occurrences of his daily activities were analogous. Like his uneasiness with visiting the doctor. And his curiosity about the purpose of outdated magazines in the waiting room. Then Joseph revealed one thing I could not identify with: he’d tested positive for HIV. And he wasn’t sure how to handle the news.
We all can think of some overwhelming occurrence in our lives appearing like a wall too daunting to climb: the death of a parent, diagnosis of a disease, facing an addiction, loss of a job, the realization that your first child makes you a parent, admitting you feel alone. Somewhere hesitation sets in. Perhaps even apprehension. Can I do this? Am I the right person to accomplish this? Is there strength enough in me to pull through? Will people still love me when I tell them?
I’ve never been informed there’s something life threatening in my blood as was told to Joseph. But there was familiarity in his anxiety even as he revealed something beyond my own reality. I’ve known moments when life stunned me. The sensations I felt when my mother passed away – disbelief, confusion, fear – were related to what I felt in that classroom, which made solidarity with Joseph possible.
When something falls apart… When confusion follows… When the reluctance to move forward trails behind…these have all been truths for me. And I felt those same truths during class. And I heard those truths as Joseph told his story. And it seemed the whole audience had once experienced the same at one time or another. We were, in effect, united.
Even our doubt can connect us. We all experience it. To think we are alone in the most challenging events of life is a ploy to pull us away from companionship and towards isolation. And to give life’s uncertainties to God is to understand there are others who have stood where we stood and have come out on the other side whole again. Though we are not left unaided the hardest thing to do is reach out; it can be a challenge in and of itself. But if there is anything to remember and carry in our hearts it is this: If ever we are lost we are absolutely not alone.