Twelve years ago a series of events transpired that landed me in my job – a dismissal from another very stressful job, the offer of a low-paying clerical job at the university, and the vacancy of the academic advisor position in my department, a position which my colleagues and my boss encouraged me to take.
I couldn’t believe my luck. I always knew that whatever I did – and what that might be was not always clear to me – had to be meaningful to me. And here I was with a job that was made for me, where I had independence but daily interaction with students, enough curveballs to keep things interesting, and enough tasks that were cyclical in nature to feed my need for consistency.
Sometimes, though, one can become jaded and weary. The cast of characters that I see semester after semester, year after year, can wear thin. We have the students who are responsible and need only occasional guidance with minimal supervision. We have those who stumble, only to regain their footing and manage to complete their programs. Some continuously stumble. Some attempt to find a way to shift the blame to me, their professors, their programs, the traffic…any factor other than their own lack of planning, initiative, and follow-through.
At the beginning of the semester is when I see a lot of those students who have waited until the very last class has filled to try to register. A meeting which should have taken 15 minutes takes 45, while voice mails pile up in my phone and emails in my inbox.
At those times, and at various times throughout the year, I forget my ideals. I miss opportunities.
I have always wanted to make an impact in my own small way. I’m not an activist. I’m no revolutionary. I wont leave the same footprint as Mother Theresa or Robert Kennedy. But in the work I do, I have occasion to reach out, to reach past the paperwork and signatures and reports, to connect with someone who desperately needs contact.
Some students are off-putting. They can be awkward or troubled. I maintain my polite and professional distance. But sometimes when there is tragedy in the world at the hands of a troubled and lonely person, I wonder how cruel the world must have seemed to a person, day after day, with its schoolyard tormentors and harsh teachers and years upon years with no friends and certainly never a sweetheart. I can’t mitigate the evil in this world, I can’t undo the tragedies that have gone before, but I can provide some warmth to a hurting heart for 15 minutes in my office. I can ask questions, I can listen, I get past my own weariness and impatience with the slack attitude and try to understand something past my own inconvenience.
They are all someone’s children. Only occasionally I become privy to some painful facts of their lives – one student hospitalized with a severe eating disorder, another nursing both her mother and father who were afflicted with cancer, one who arrived as a freshman grieving for the death of her sister. You can’t tell these things by looking at them.
Last year I made a committment for the new year that I would work on my connections to those I love. I would honor my husband, engage meaningfully with my children, spend time with my mother who does so much for my family. Perhaps nurture some new friendships. Some days I kept my committment, other days I feel short. This year I renew my committment to connections with those I love the most, but I extend that committment to those kids I interact with daily, who file in and out of my office and occasionally drive me crazy.
So there it is, my committment for the new year, some ten days late. Punctuality? I’ll be working on that too.
This year I’ll do better. As scripture tells us, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14