Even fairly good students can end up after school in detention. If my middle school had a three-strikes program, I may not have survived eighth grade. To wit:
- I was sitting in the lunchroom with my buddies. One of them, I noticed, was walking behind us and flicking our ears. When I thought he reached me, without turning I swept my arm behind me to smack him. Then I saw the faces of all my friends turning red. I had unknowingly just slapped the school’s most attractive young teacher squarely on her bottom.
- Before English class began, my best friend suggested that a pro wrestling headlock he saw the night prior was a great move. I disagreed. We agreed to a test; he would get me in a headlock and I would try to escape it. He grabbed me, and I proceeded to lift his entire body up to my shoulders. At that point the teacher walked in, and assumed idiot-on-idiot violence. Apparently she was not a wrasslin’ fan.
- We were about to begin a new unit on drug abuse in our Social Studies class. While I was visiting someone in the hospital, I asked a nurse if I could take home a clean, capped hypodermic needle to use as a teaching prop. She thought it was a great idea. Upon seeing the unauthorized needle in class, however, my teacher disagreed. So did my principal.
Looking back about 50years later — hopefully after the statute of limitations — I maintain my innocence. I also take from these experiences a recognition of how young people make careless mistakes, bad choices, act from ignorance, or just don’t quite have enough of the common sense we older folks take for granted. My rather trivial transgressions resulted in correspondingly minor punishments. Others who made bad choices on a larger scale, or who were simply the unlucky ones who got caught, may have spent time not in detention but in jail. They may have missed college, job or other life opportunities. But for one or two bad days, or bad decisions, their lives could have been completely different.
This is why the listening part of how we serve is so important. Especially in our Home Visits, but also while chatting at a food pantry or when otherwise helping someone with their issues, Vincentians seek to understand first, and then to act. Our services are not cookie-cutter because the people who need them don’t come from the same mold, either. Each person and family got to where they are by a different, sometimes unbelievable path. This path may have been a winding road, full of potholes. Perhaps they had to walk it step by painful step, much less drive it. Often too, they carried someone else and their burdens along the way.
The Society’s national Mission statement includes the phrase “through personal relationships with and service to people in need” and recognizes that we are a relational, not transactional, group. We see the service we provide simply by letting someone in need unload their situation and problems. In some cases, we are the only person who took the time to listen at all.
This year especially, our friends in need have stories to tell! Are we actively listening to them?
Looking back on my middle-school situations, I realize that the repercussions of my actions could have been much worse but for listening teachers and administrators. Their desire to understand first before responding to me provided great examples to carry on in my Vincentian work. With some thought, you may have a similar role model.
Ms. Fascina, if you’re out there, thanks to you especially for listening. I really didn’t know you were walking behind me!
Yours in Christ,