practice makes joy

The kids at school can get pretty bent out of shape about a lot of different things. Student A says they can’t work or sit with Student B because they don’t get along with them. A few even complain about other teachers, saying they hate going to a certain class because Mister or Miss So-And-So “hates them” and “is the only teacher who yells at me” and so on. My response for most of these situations is generally the same: Worry about you. You’re the only person you can control in any situation. If you go in thinking it will suck or that it won’t go well, guess what? It’s going to happen.

Does this set in with every student? No, not even close. But I’ve noticed something else about these mini-lectures I preside on: am I even hearing myself?

Many times this year I’ve gone into situations that I think will be a struggle and have succumbed to negative feelings that have made them even worse. An example would be the various Amate-mandated Community Nights. Often, we have to attend Amate events during the week that are a stretch from home, many times right after work. A broken record will play in my head, saying “I could be resting,” “I could be calling loved ones,” “I could be reading, writing, drawing,” and the most dominate “Why am I even going? What could there possibly be to ‘learn’ from or to ‘challenge’ me in my life?”

As it turns out, last Wednesday happened to be one of these types of nights: Worked eight hours, drove forty-five minutes home to quickly cook dinner for the house, ate dinner, and then drove a half hour away to hear a speaker, knowing that we may not even get home until nine or nine-thirty. As the record in my head continued to play through the car ride, a thought occurred to me: “How can I expect the kids to listen to me if I can’t even listen to me?” I cleared my head as best as I could, walked into the classroom (since the talk was given at a local college) and realized that I actually felt at ease.

In short, the lecture was phenomenal! The speaker was a Catholic priest from Albany, New York who now works in Chicago. He had brought snippets of an apostolic exhortation published by Pope Francis last fall, and wanted to share and reflect on the message of those snippets. Although I had my worries, it was a great talk on “joy” and how necessary it is our lives.

The talk could have been about just anything and I think I would have gotten something out of it. Was part of it because the priest was an awesome speaker? Of course. Was the content he spoke about worthwhile? Absolutely. But most importantly, I enjoyed the talk because I wanted to enjoy it more. I put my best foot forward, cleared my mind of as much baggage as possible, and did my best to engage in the conversations and topics. And being back on the other end of learning, if only for a night, was just incredible!

The whole lecture reminded me of a similar lesson I learned last year in the Canisius College Chorale. We were in the midst of practicing a vocal lesson while learning a new song when our director, Mr. Scinta, said this: “Yes, you’re hitting the right note, but don’t go flat! You can’t start off strong and then trail off. You need to keep hitting it! Use your minds and imagine re-attacking the note over and over and over again! In life, you don’t accomplish something once and call it quits. You keep pushing yourself to achieve and to move forward.”

Maybe it was the nostalgia of being in a college classroom and hearing a lecture that made my day, and how that lecture of finding joy resonated with the moment of re-attacking weak vocal notes. Or maybe it was the reminder that even though I’m no longer a student in school, that I still have a lot to learn. I can’t say that from now I will absolutely love every talk, speaker and obligation that I have to go to. But I do know this: if I carry myself as best as I can, even the long and rough nights will be that much better. This lesson, this memento isn’t a simple fact that once you learn it, it’s automatic for the rest of your life: It’s something that every preteen, every twenty-something, every middle-aged and elderly person needs to learn over and over again. A note that’s never “re-attacked,” will leave us falling flat without that joyful balance.

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