Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The People We'll Meet

Growing up in the Catholic school system, I knew that when I graduated from teachers college that I would return back to the school board I once called home and offer the children there the same kind of guidance I was offered growing up.

While I believe I understand the morals and teachings behind faith – sometimes the hardest part is being an active member of the church community. You can imagine my worries when I found out that I needed a letter of recommendation from a priest before my application would even be considered at the board. I was going to need to book an appointment with a priest.

But, what kind of conversation do you have with a priest?

I began playing over the possible questions in my head. Do you attend church weekly? How often do you pray? What would you say your relationship with God is like? I was worried.

My Dad had given me a heads-up about the man I was about to talk with, “He’s kind of an introvert.” Great. An introverted priest – just my luck.

First impressions are an interesting thing (something I will ask you to keep in your mind for later) and Father John was an interesting character to say the least. He welcomed me into his office – or what looked like an office. There were papers all over the desk and open boxes with files everywhere. I started wondering how he kept track of anything in his office. But, as they say, looks can be deceiving.

I quickly began to realize that Father John wasn’t an introvert at all – he was actually an intellectual. The moment I told him I was a media studies graduate, he began asking me questions about Neil Postman and his book Amusing Ourselves to Death. Could Father John be for real? It was an interesting coincidence because I actually happened to have Postman’s book in my car and was reading it before our conversation.

Suddenly, the phone rang and our conversation was paused for a moment. I started to look around his office again when I began noticing things I hadn’t before. His book shelves were filled with books on a number of topics, the tops of the shelves were filled with lovely little cards from people in the community and amongst the papers were other tiny widgets and keepsakes that I can imagine only a priest would keep.

When Father John was off the phone, I began looking at him in a new light. We talked about his time in the Amazon, what it was like to visit Rome, how teaching is a calling and how I shouldn’t settle for anything but the best in life. I must have been in his office for over an hour when we finally decided to part ways.

While my interview with the board went well in 2010, there wasn’t any room for new teachers and I was forced to reapply. Fortunately, this meant another conversation with Father John. I was excited to step back into his office and share my stories. His office looked exactly the same – it was a complete mess! But, the man behind the desk was happy as ever as we began talking about writing and his secret passion for book clubs.

I had the opportunity to ask him questions about people, life, how to go about being the best possible listener and what to do when people come to you for help.

Remember earlier when I alluded to first impressions? After I asked Father John about how to respond to people who come to you for help, he began talking about a good friend of his (who is also a priest), but who is also his exact opposite. Father John talked about his friend’s ability to look at someone without any judgment whatsoever – I wouldn’t have expected anything less from a priest. But, what I found interesting was that Father John admitted that, at times, he struggles to see past what is on the outside and really focus in on what he can do to help the people who come to visit him. The man is always striving to be better.

He told me that teaching, like being in the priesthood, is about creating a channel for communication with people and, well, God. It was interesting to hear Father John speak as he continued to explain his faults and how he is always working with people trying to understand why they have been put in his life and how he can help them.

I found this conversation, about a year and a half after our first meeting, rather interesting because I was that person. I was the guy who was thinking to himself, “What can I learn from this introverted priest?” But, with each passing day I am starting to truly believe that everything happens for a reason. The people we meet, the stories we hear and the roads we travel are all leading up to something greater than ourselves.

Would I have learned the same lesson if I had avoided meeting with Father John? I’m not really sure. But, the powers that be have an interesting way of teaching lessons.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

On the Good and Bad

Why enjoy anything at all? As I sat at my desk on this Tuesday morning I listened to the explanation as to why you shouldn’t enjoy too much happiness - I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. “Never get too excited. This way you’ll never feel too sad when the bad happens.” As I run through the logic I really can’t help but think that it makes a little bit of sense.

Our lives are the ultimate stage. As the protagonist, we will experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. The good feels good and the bad, undoubtedly the worse of the two, feels bad. Why not live out life at a medium?

This is the beauty of conversation. For a fleeting moment, you are presented with the opportunity to, as they say, walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. You get the chance to peer into the psyche of the other and see what life is like for someone else.

I wrestled with this story for weeks. The irony of my own life has put the themes it conveys into an interesting perspective and after much deliberation, and some light reading, I have decided to share my thoughts on the topic.

First you have to ask yourself a question: Is life pre-determined by fate? Or, are we in control of our own destinies?

As a fan of the Matrix, I like to think like Neo. I am in control of my destiny. My action, or lack there of, will determine my future. But, my philosophical side continues to weigh in on my judgment. I often find myself wrestling with the line, “Everything in life happens for a reason.” The people we meet, the roads we travel and the decisions we make, at times, can be linked together into one elaborate story that not even the best team of writers could make into a movie.

For instance, two years ago around this time I was visiting North Bay, Ontario. I had made the four-hour journey to meet up with the soccer coach and practice with some of the boys on the team. At the practice I met a few people, but none more memorable than my future roommate and current close friend. The interesting thing is, he was from Brampton as well and had made the journey for the same reasons I had. To him, friends are family and throughout the year I had the opportunity to meet quite a few members of his extended family. One in particular was a few months away from making a personal journey of his own and as we began to share stories with one another we realized we both shared a passion for reading. Without hesitation, he commenced suggesting titles I should read and I took my time seeking them out, but as fate would have it I opened one a few weeks ago and began reading.

The book is titled, “How We Decide” by Jonah Lehrer and within the first 100 pages or so I had stumbled across the answer I was looking for – humans are emotional creatures. Whether we are interested in admitting it or not, the decisions we make in life are heavily related to how they will make us feel and how similar decisions in the past have made us feel.

Why shouldn’t we enjoy happiness? Is it because past experience has taught us that feeling good can’t last? Is it because we know that life’s bad can come sweeping in without warning and bring our lives to a crashing halt?

Why not take in everything? The good and the bad. As we go through our experiences and continue to make decisions we continue to learn and grow. While we can capture moments of our lives in the forms of pictures or memories, we can’t pause it – or slow it down. As much as the bad hurts, it’s important to remember that life will continue to move forward and every experience in life serves a purpose.

The bad is dark and dismal, but just like how the good can turn bad at a moments notice – life will also provide us with the opportunity to turn bad into good just as quickly.

We only have one life to live – take in everything.