The Valley of the Sun has been in the national weather news recently for something other than triple-digit temperatures. The unprecedented deluge on Monday, September 8, resulted in cancellation of school for the day. Our new middle school head Paulsson Rajarigam took a bit of pleasure in reminding me of a comment I had made to him during our middle school head search last year. In my attempts to convince him to move from the East Coast across the United States to join our school community, I mentioned to him that in Phoenix I would never ever have to make another weather-related decision regarding school closing. (I thought this remark was a sound recruitment tactic in light of the fact that the East Coast and much of the rest of the country was enduring a particularly brutal and long winter.) September 8 proved my statement wrong in no uncertain terms.
So I was wrong. While the storm did have some damaging effects for some people’s property, including some school families’, there was not much at stake for me personally in having been wrong. In fact my decision to cancel school received much more support than many of my previous weather-related decisions in other locales. Nonetheless there is something liberating in being able to admit one’s mistake without gloss, something that has not always (and still not always) been comfortable for me to do. Even though to be human is to be wrong and to make mistakes at times, something in us resists accepting and admitting those moments in straightforward fashion.
There is also something liberating in admitting mistakes without qualifications. I have in the past attempted to nuance my acknowledgement with “if” clauses along the lines of “If someone was offended by my actions/remarks” or “If my words did not clearly express what I wanted to say.” In order to become the people we are called to be, we must move to more clarity and directness in acknowledging moments when we are mistaken. If we are unable to admit errors without qualification about matters such as our inadequate meteorological forecasting, we certainly will find it very difficult to admit mistakes when our words or actions cause substantial impact such as hurt and other unfortunate consequences for people, especially those about whom we care the most.
Until next time…
Eighth Grade Lunch with Mr. Taylor’s Advisory
At the beginning of each school year I enjoy hosting lunches for each of our eighth grade advisory groups so that I can connect with our oldest students in a smaller group setting as they embark on their last year in our school. At these lunches I ask each group if anyone has any questions or suggestions for me. At today’s lunch one student asked me how long I have taught. There were looks of disbelief around the table when I mentioned that my first teaching job started in the fall of 1971. The looks were understandable since that year is three lifetimes ago for our eighth graders.
Coincidentally, I had recently counted how many school years I have enjoyed as student, teacher, or administrator. It’s well past 50 years and could be even higher were I to count some years when I had oversight responsibilities for a group of Jesuit high schools in a particular region. I did not do this tally in order to pat myself on the back for my durability and staying power but rather to savor the gratitude I still felt as I began this year at All Saints’. I am graced to have spent so many years in environments I love and that I find deeply enriching and engaging.
That in turn led me to reflect on something from that first teaching assignment, which took place at a Jesuit high school in Kansas City. One of my colleagues there was a jovial Jesuit priest who at that point had been teaching Latin at the school for several decades. Whenever anyone remarked about something that happened at school on a given day, the priest would chuckle and utter the following: “It happens every year!” I found myself annoyed by that response, and I finally figured out the reason. The priest, who clearly had admirable qualities of persistence and commitment, apparently did not embrace the newness- in fact the uniqueness- of every year. From his perspective he had replicated the same year dozens of time, and in that approach is something unsettling and unsatisfactory.
So ultimately it matters less that this is my fiftieth+ school year than that 2014-15 is the one and only year that each of us at All Saints’ have been gifted. If I do not embrace this year as precious and unique, I shortchange my eighth grade lunch companions and everyone else at our school. If “it happens every year” is my default response, then I shall have ignored the special possibilities that this year offers.
Until next time…