“Garrett, you’re sick of us, aren’t you? All day today you’ve been kind of snappy every time we asked a question.”
“No, it’s just that…”
Insert excuse here. Insert another. But before I began, she bravely turned her head to look me in the eyes, a sort of exclamation point or double underline or italics for her words – words that, frankly, already made their point quite well. I stopped. And despite the tremendous fatigue of four days of overtime chaperoning, my mind sprinted through the millions of things that I could say.
They say that in make-or-break moments, moments your brain calculates to be worth the adrenaline rush, the blast of that natural drug slows time down and we somehow have an eternity to react in such a way that ensures our survival. The adrenaline kicked in; I weighed three possible responses in what seemed like infinite time.
First possible response: I solved this already.
Why are you asking about the schedule today? Saturday and Sunday we went through this same thing, again and again. I was the sole possessor of the trip itinerary, y’all asked me what was next, I responded, again and again, patience fading with each response, until I realized the problem. And then I solved it. I gave you the schedule. I put it in the groupchat. Along with a funny, clever and apologetic meme. You have it now. Problem solved…right?
Second possible response: Yes, we’re all tired.
Yes, I am tired. Yes, we are tired, all four of us chaperones…this is a lot of work. Can you cut us a little bit of slack? We ARE trying. I’ve been this tired since day one, and I have been trying my best to be the most compassionate and patient version of myself every time I get flustered, like just now, but this time I couldn’t pull it off.
You got me.
Third possible response: I’m far more overwhelmed than I look.
I have the same schedule that you do. And though I co-planned the trip, I don’t know much more than you do.
This is the first time I’ve planned one of these! It sounded delightful in my mind – an “intercultural exchange”, a “two-way cultural immersion” – proposed by the campus minister of the other school. It sounded awesome, a meeting of two groups of 10 high schoolers from a mostly Mexican-American high school in Waukegan, Illinois and a mostly Oglala Lakȟóta high school in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. It sounded exciting and adventurous, an immersion first in Waukegan then in Pine Ridge: visitors would become hosts, hosts would become visitors, sharing prayers, foods, service and 35 hours of I-90 round-trip road tripping…and, truth be told, this is turning out to be far more delightful than I even imagined–but, truth be told, also far more demanding…
These things don’t plan themselves. You can only do so much before you dive in, because you can’t plan for what you don’t know to plan for…
Yes, we have a schedule, but this is all-new territory for both me and the campus minister at Cristo Rey. Yes, we have a schedule, but we’re also making it up as we go along, hustling when we see you all getting antsy, staying when we see you getting deep, and trying to ride these waves as best we can.
You all have been so good, so open, such good listeners, such good sharers, so patient with our long days and short nights…I am truly grateful. But your question hit me right where I’m most vulnerable right now…
Back to reality. As she looked up again, I responded with something between my head’s snappy comeback and my heart’s sappy declaration of insecurity:
“Mariah, you’re right… I have been snappy today. I am sorry.”
“No, that’s okay. It’s just if you leaders get crabby, we get crabby, too.”
“Ah…well, honestly, we’re just standing by right now, waiting for our next move, letting some of the folks over there finish talking. We’ll all be going to the service site, soon. How was lunch? Crazy story that guy told, huh?” I felt my tone shift, immediately, and watched hers shift to match.
“Yeah…” Her mind seems to switch tracks – “So do we really need to wear hair nets at that service thingy this afternoon?”
The next day, the three other chaperones and all ten of my students slept soundly through the first six hours of the long drive home. Seven albums in a row, a sunrise in the rearview mirror, an open road ahead and a minibus without cruise control all to myself–I catalogued all my favorite moments of the trip.
I wondered how I was so awake, so happy, and so ready to host ten students and chaperones at our place in less than two weeks–a bit of a surprise after the previous five days’ mounting fatigue. I won’t tell you what my favorite moment was, but I’ll give you a hint: it was an unexpected one. It was bold. It was a game-changer.