I stepped out of Dillon Chapel, carefully cradling the paper lantern I held in my arms. I felt the the heavy, humid South Bend summer air descend, and my eyes adjusted to the darkness that had settled on South Quad during Mass. In the warm, electric glow of Praise and Worship, I had forgotten just how late it was–11:30 p.m., to be exact. It was the last night of the summer that the small group, spearheaded by songbirds David Chang and Rocielle Perez, had stayed after daily Mass to sing and pray. For our final meeting, we were writing our prayer requests on luminaries and, together, floating them into the sky at McGlinn Field.
Behind me, other ACErs shuffled out of the chapel, carrying their own lanterns with their intentions scrawled across the canvases. As our excited chatter filled the stillness (we were going to light stuff on fire!), I briefly paused to recall what day of the week it was or what I had done that morning.
But, in ACE Summer, time moves illogically. I had already lived many lives since I had awoken that morning. As the ACE staff commonly observes: “Long days, short weeks.”
For a second-year Teaching Fellow, no moment is wasted at ACE Summer, no hour left unlived. We carpe diem like it’s nobody’s business. Whenever I had a spare moment like this to reflect, I was always struck by the sheer number of activities I had managed to fit into one day. The list often included, but was not limited to: coffee at South Dining Hall, classes in DeBart, a spirited jog (or valiant walk) around the lakes, a visit with Jesus in the Woods, scheduled paired time over lunch, a conference presentation meeting at the library, coffee at the ACE office, a community basketball game at McGlinn, a community dinner, a short “hang” and/or roomie jam session in Alumni, Mass at Dillon, and, of course, a Father Joe cookie social.
Yes, the days were certainly long–to steal a phrase from Harper Lee, “A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer.” But I never felt depleted.
In fact, for as tired and weary as I felt after my first year of teaching, ACE Summer had been amazingly restorative. First of all, mercifully, I enjoyed a few more hours of sleep each night without having to teach practicum the next day. I was carving out time to exercise and trying to eat better (which was not hard because my first-year-of-teaching diet was mainly just frozen chicken nuggets). I was finally living a life of self-care that Fr. Joe could write e-mails about.
And as I trooped toward McGlinn Field with my luminary, it struck me that ACE Summer Two was rejuvenating in a way I had not expected. What the summer had truly restored in me was a sense of purpose, an enlivening of the spirit. I was constantly surrounded by people much like the lively bunch trooping alongside me, people who were using whatever talents and gifts they had to become better educators, better friends, and better disciples of Christ.
The zeal was contagious. I found inspiration from ACErs in even the most mundane moments–I had a thought-provoking conversation on school choice while folding laundry in the Alumni basement; I listened to someone rave about how smart her students were while in line for pho at South Dining Hall; and I watched a fight nearly break out over who wanted to hold the door as we filed into Mass one day. ACErs, I saw plainly, are relentlessly selfless. Their constant demonstrations of kindness, consideration, and joy made it clear I had some work to do on my own attitude before I returned to teaching in August. It was humbling just to be around such an incredible assemblage of extraordinary people, and in light of their examples, I felt a beautiful challenge to become a bit more like each of them.
That familiar feeling washed over me at the final stage of the luminary prayer service. As we approached the launch site, the anticipation was palpable. In the joyful throng, I found Helen Maduka, a Teaching Fellow with a sparkling sense of humor, and we resumed our Praise and Worship conversation about what we wanted our personal brands to be (“fierce, but approachable”).
Helen got out a lighter as I held her lantern, and after some trial and error and a close call with a tree, we watched our prayers climb steadily into the night sky. Time, once again, seemed to slow. As our lanterns paraded through the darkness, I looked at my friends-- their faces were upturned, their eyes toward heaven. In that moment, I felt very much like I had come home.
Learn more about the ACE Summer
Visit ace.nd.edu/teach for more information.