‘Why don’t we work to make it happen?’

It had been a long, exhausting day. Teachers and students had spent the morning and early afternoon at a park near the school. My students had invited me to join their world of games. I had enjoyed running and playing, but now not only was I tired, but I also had to face returning to my adult work. As we sat and watched the afternoon talent show, I divided my time between guiding my seventh-grade boys in the life-skills lesson of how to express approval in a non-football stadium manner and silently running through my to-do list. I put down my anxieties for a moment so that I could enjoy the film that one of my eighth-graders had made. 

The film opened with a picture of his family together. It continued with essentially a slide show of still shots set to the song “Stand by Me.” From his family, he branched to other happy families and then to families standing together facing dire circumstances. His message, written above one of the photos, was that we all want and need the same things. Then, the images went to peoples and cultures wrought by the devastation of war. The dignity and honor of the individuals in the photos, as well as the visionary’s hope for change filled the screen. His final message: “If this is what we want, then why don’t we work to make it happen?” accompanied his photo of two smiling adolescent boys shoulder to shoulder in a gesture of friendship. One boy was Jewish and the other Muslim. 

To fully appreciate how this young man had personally responded to the call of the Holy Spirit, one must know some background information. There was absolute freedom in the choice of film topics. In addition, this was a young man who, in science class, always preferred a very detailed list of what to know for each and every exam. For Mock Trial team he served as a lawyer. Although writing the statements was easy for him, having to improvise went beyond his comfort zone. The day of the trial I shared with him that, when younger, I too had been nervous in public speaking. Symbolically I gave him my keys. Only after the trial did I speak privately with him. I asked him how he felt during the trial and then told him to remember that feeling. I let him know that the real power and inspiration wasn’t the keys, but had been the Holy Spirit acting in his life. That was what it felt like to experience the Holy Spirit. His answer that day was “Oh.” 

In his film, the student revealed he had reached the stage in his life where he not only realized God’s love and blessings in his life, but now idealistically wished them for all of God’s children. That balance of love of God with love of neighbor is the essence of the greatest Commandment. Jesus’ words, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:36-40).

Any earthly change requires two factors: a strong desire for change and hard work to effectively bring about change. Age brings wisdom, experience, and perspective. Sometimes this combination aids in developing new ways of thinking and a greater capacity for creation. However, so many times the experiences that bring us adults that precise knowledge can leave deep scars upon our hearts. Scars mean limitations in function. Thus, we can become trapped in the “Nice idea, but that will never work” response. We end up wishing to promote change, but not sure we can accomplish anything worthwhile. If we are not careful, lethargy soon has us in its icy grip. 

As I watched this young man’s film, it was so insightful and moving that it was my turn to say “Oh.” I felt that ice melt and God’s love healing some of those scars on my heart. I smiled and thought of some of the dreams of my youth. Next, I wondered if perhaps it were time for me to work on making some new dreams a reality. Catherine Doherty, in her book “Poustinia” says, “The first act of a poustinik is to fold the wings of his intellect and open the doors of his heart — the mind is purified, the heart is at peace, and out of the depths of both come forth the gifts or the fruits of the Holy Spirit.” The Advocate will always guide us to do God’s work. 

Students always give farewell gifts to their teachers. This year one of mine was a reminder to fold my own wings of intellect so as to keep a proper balance between dreaming and doing while at the same time continuing to foster such intellectual wing development and growth in my young, idealistic students. 

Anchor columnist Helen Flavin is a Catholic scientist, educator and writer and a member of St. Bernadette’s Parish in Fall River. biochemwz@hotmail.com

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