My first real teaching gig was in January of 1985 . I taught employability skills to Cuban and Haitian immigrants in an adult education program tied to the Job Training Partnership Act of 1982.
I learned a lot in that job. Mostly about myself, but also about the students I taught. The amount of suffering they had survived and continued to endure seemed insurmountable to a young, very-wet-behind-the ears teacher just out of college.
It impacted the way I would approach education for the next 25 years. In fact, it impacted the way I have approached relationships, especially with people who remain largely anonymous to me.
I quickly embraced a quotation that I kept in my gradebook as a reminder to be always gentle and kind. Often I failed, but I’d come back the next day and try again.
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. ~Plato
I thought it was a cool quote. What did I know of suffering at 21? Broken hearts and broken dreams would be replaced soon enough with a love rooted in commitment, and dreams buoyed by goals.
And lessons in suffering.
You see, a life without suffering is not much of a life, is it? It is as necessary to a good life as joy, for it provides us with perspective. In fact, it does more than that. It unites us with Christ and His Passion. So, suffering becomes an opportunity for thanksgiving.
I admit I’m not a fan of that. The petulant teenager in me wants happiness all the time. All the time. For me, and for those people whom I love.
To see my loved ones suffer is to be truly touched by the human condition. It is one of the great equalizers, as we all must face our own suffering and the truth of our mortality. Still, there is little consolation in that knowledge when we are hard-pressed to feel the sadness and desolation of illness or tragedy.
The words to console don’t come easily to me. The fight or flight impulse is clearly tipped in the flight department. I wish I had a stronger character, but it is what it is….
So it came as a surprise to me today to run across not one, but two quotes from Blessed John XXIII. The first came in an email forward, and the second popped into my head as I said goodbye to my beloved friend after a long overdue visit:
I have looked into your eyes with my eyes. I have put my heart near your heart. ~Pope John XXIII
It’s the best I can do. It’s the best any of us can do, really. To walk with each other, our hearts close to one another in our joys and in our sorrows.