Throughout this month of gratitude, we will be publishing a series of blog posts from ACE teachers that center around the pillars of teaching, community, and spirituality. The following post is authored by Maria Lynch (ACE 19, ENL 13) and focuses on the love that she felt from her ACE Plaquemine community, as well as how she continues to witness transformational moments with a new community in Denver, Colorado.
Smile - you paid for this.
A heckler with a sense of humor waved this sign at me as I passed the eleventh mile marker of a recent half marathon. Touché, dude.
I seem to most often contemplate life’s great questions in the middle of marathons, lunges, and hill sprints. What’s the point of this, I wonder, and ALL of this? Who made me, and who made this instructor such a drill sergeant? Can it be that I am made for greatness, but not for this final pushup?
The beauty of exercise is that the pain is soon transformed. Endorphins kick in, and my memories of distress soon morph into pride and even a desire to do the same workout again.
This idea of transformative pain, I mused the other day mid-wall sit, is at the heart of our faith, too. God shows up in the recovery room of St. Ignatius, transforming a cannonball-shattered leg into the beginning of a worldwide religious order. Flannery O’Connor’s struggle with lupus made her stories an even more truthful mirror onto the pain and grace in our world.
I’ve watched God do the same in my less-saintly life, too–not in causing the pain, but in finding a way to transform it (and our memory of it), whether through music, adoration of the Eucharist, a novel with just the right ending, a thought-provoking confession, an Instagram artist or, in my first years of teaching, through community.
Smile - you signed up for this.
Like most first years in a challenging profession, my initial year teaching high school in the ACE Teaching Fellows program in Plaquemine, Louisiana, had me more insecure and just plain tired than I’d ever been before. The newness of every topic, attempted activity, student outburst, parent complaint, and administrative critique wore me down more than Notre Dame’s defense against Alabama in the National Championship that year.
Yet while I can recall the pain and difficulties of the 2012-13 school year, I can barely remember them. My memory of that time is instead full of moments where my housemates, school colleagues, and fellow ACE teachers sat with me and gently transformed my suffering.
- Maura helping me finish grading my students’ papers the night before report cards were due.
- My mentor teacher telling me that “that parent” made her cry, too.
- Matt and Schneider going on nighttime runs with me, making me laugh and fighting off the dogs that would bark at our heels.
- My students finding me hiding in my classroom and dragging me into the assembly to do Dance Dance Revolution with them.
- Going to step classes followed by mandatory cheese fries with Sam.
- My academic supervisor knowing when to tease me, when to compliment me, and when to challenge me–occasionally all at the same time. “You’re the most organized person in the classroom–color me surprised. How are you going to help your students grow those same skills?”
- Joe offering me some of his steak dinner after I’d taken an accidental afternoon nap.
- Crawfish boils at our house with nearly all of the Gulf Coast and Texas ACE teachers in attendance.
- Making butterscotch chip cookies and watching The Bachelor with Amy.
Even now, as I enter my seventh year of teaching, I witness so many moments transformed by the presence of community. A beloved colleague passed away suddenly this year, and praying in the chapel with her students and my fellow faculty and staff brought the rush of God’s love and peace that I had struggled to achieve on my own.
I read once that suffering is an opportunity to put our hurts into bigger hands. God’s, yes, but oftentimes through the conduit of community. This year, I am grateful for the many hands that have held mine and others’, transforming pain through love and presence.
Learn more about ACE's three pillars, and start your application at ace.nd.edu/teach!