Wednesday, October 21, 2009

That really great story...

Every time I come to this point, laptop open, pillows propped up on my bed, ready to write...I get stuck. I have this really great story to share, but something in me has kept saying, "nope, too tired" or "nope, don't have the words", or "nope, will do that later". Today I say to myself "get to it!", even though it's now 11:03pm and I am usually cranky with less than 8 hours of sleep a night; but all that aside, here is the story that I know all three of you readers have been waiting for; I'm sure you've been checking every day, just feverishly hoping to see a new post.

This semester, to be perfectly honest, has been a hard one. I am now working two jobs that just last year were two full time jobs, and now are one full time job. I'm making it work. I don't think the students are getting the quality care that they normally would...but I'm making it work.

However, I find these days that I do a lot of tasks. I make lists, I check them off. I assign papers, I receive papers, I mark papers, I return papers. I see a lot of paper, and consider planting some trees outside as a tribute to that paper. I receive emails. I send emails. I write up letters, and then change the name, and send them, over and over and over again. I stop mid-sentence and remember things that I have to do. I wake up at 4 in the morning, and think of a task that I need to do the next day. I think you get the point.

So, I took 50 students into Vancouver for the first Urban Mission Adventure (UMA) of the year almost a month ago to learn about the world in our backyard, to meet our neighbours, otherwise known as poverty and wealth, with full hopes on my part, that their presuppositions would be shattered. I set up appointments with organizations, with speakers, with churches, and sent them on their way. I made sure they had leaders, and food, and maps, and transit tickets, and phone numbers, and emergency quarters. I made sure they returned to the hostel at night, and that they got up in the morning. I made sure that they were interacting with people on the street, with people at the organizations, with people in their own groups.

The by-product of being the head honcho of this thing, is that while I do all of this, I don't get to do what they get to do anymore. Once you become "in charge" you really don't, well, "do the stuff" anymore. And I have to admit, I returned home from Vancouver, drained. The students returned with stories, with life-changing moments, with new ideas about what the church is and what the church is supposed to do. And I returned with dirty laundry and a bunch of papers to mark.

You see, dear reader, that while usually someone who is good at administration is really a strong "task" personality...I am not. I have this blend of task and relationship-focused personality, for whatever reason, and so while I achieve at administration, it also runs me dry. I need the people. I yearn for people. I need to talk and listen and interact. I need to touch a shoulder, shake a hand, look into someone's eyeballs. Yes, I need human contact, such as that I'm teaching my students to run towards, and not to shy away from.

And so we come to my really great story. (You've made it this can do it!)

The Thursday after this trip into Vancouver, I went to chapel, like I would on any normal Thursday. About 15 minutes into chapel, while we were all standing there singing, a gentleman burst in the doors, and headed straight for the chair next to mine. He was a tall man, wild gray hair, wearing many layers, and one of those thick "London Fog" coats, you know, the wool ones. He smelled of cigarette smoke, and a little bit of whiskey. His eyes were large and friendly...and also a little bit wild, to match the hair.

I saw him coming a mile away out of the corner of my eye, and I knew he would sit next to me. We stood, he sat. We sang, he was quiet. I kept glancing out of that same corner of that same eye, just checking in with him. Most men who come off the street are usually quite jittery; formal settings like our chapel tend to mess with them a bit, and to be honest, I fully expected him to walk out after a few minutes. But when I looked, I realized he was calm, sitting still, and weeping silently. And so I let him have his moment.

After a while, chapel ended. One of my UMA students, having recently walked the streets of Vancouver, talking to the "outsiders" of society, wandered over and introduced himself...and then headed to class. Now knowing the man's name, as he had reciprocated the introduction, I turned and said, "So, John*, how'd you find out about chapel?" (*I've changed his name to protect him...cause I want to)

John turned to me and said, "well, I went to go buy a coke in the cafeteria, and I asked the girl, 'when is chapel here?' and she replied, 'right now!', so I came!" Fair enough, I decided, though that had been more of a literal explanation than I was expecting.

I was considering what to ask next, when he pointed to the front of the chapel, and looked at me, "you know, I remember standing up at the front of this chapel and sharing my story; I was a student here, you know? Back in '72. Came for a year."

Suddenly, John was not just "some homeless guy" who came off the street into chapel. John was a fellow alumnus; a certificate-yielding biblical studies student; one who had walked the same halls that I did, and sat in the same classes, and even was influenced by some of the same men who had taught him, and then some 30 years later, taught me.

And so we sat and chatted for a while. He shared his story with me; I shared some of my story with him. He described all the different jobs and roles he has played in life. He explained that he is writing three books right now, and had just given up everything he had in another province to return to Abbotsford. He was sleeping on the street. He was looking for work. He was looking for community.

I offered to pray for him, and he accepted. I shared with him some of the resources in the community that he could connect with, should he want the help. He accepted the advice, and I, recognizing that I'd done what I could for the time being, let him know that I needed to get back to those papers, to those emails, to those tasks. I invited him to return to chapel, and he smiled, and said he'd like to come.

That afternoon, I realized that, knowing how many of the staff had seen this man come and sit next to me, and knowing that many of them would be "concerned" about the "homeless man on campus", I sought out those that would need to know what I knew, and so I first chatted with the Dean of Students. I told him that John was an alumni, and he gently laughed with doubt on his lips...but I told him I believed John. I have been duped before, I know, but there was something about John that I believed, and the things he said made sense, they were logical, they sounded right.

And so, I found my way to the library and with the help of the librarian, I located the yearbook of the class of 72. I opened the book, and I found John. He looked almost exactly the same. The crazy hair (though a different colour), the large eyes, the kind face.

I imagined what he was like as a student.

I imagined him being one of MY students.

John hasn't returned yet to chapel. I keep hoping he'll walk through that door, and make an entrance like he did before, and find the seat next to mine.

In the meantime, I cherish my interaction with John. I came out from under the pile of papers, and he gave me a little piece of myself back to me. He reminded me that I can "do the stuff". I don't just teach it, I believe it. I know it. I love doing it. And I needed that reminder.

Friday, October 02, 2009

new revelation!

Were you aware that Tylenol Cold and Tylenol Flu, sold separately, are the EXACT same medication? I'm on to them....

To all my faithful blog readers (i.e. Joy, Heidi and Christa), new fun story coming as soon as I have time to write will be good, I promise!