A year brings about many changes. With the end of the school year approaching, I find myself grading a large stack of papers. As I read, I’ve been pleased by the number of check marks I write in the margins, or the comments focusing on strengthening analysis rather than “analyze, not summarize.”
While my students may not seem aware of the changes in their critical approaches to literature, I’ve noticed. And I’ve commented on it in class. Often, we get so caught up in the present – just getting through a course – that we forget to reflect on the path that we’ve taken to get us where we are.
During Lent, I promised to focus on little things – such as gratitude and the small ways I noticed God trying to speak to me. It’s something that I’ve continued, even though I’m not always perfect in my intention every day. What I’ve noticed is that I am even more conscious of the amount of changes that life has brought about in the swift passing of two or three months.
One of the reflections from my St. Louis University’s campus news section last week focused on the cyclical nature of life. The writer remarked that she began her education at a Jesuit school and now, 18 years later, found herself returning to a Jesuit parish as director. We never know what the future holds, but I truly believe that, in some ways, we are given some means of foreshadowing what is to come. When we reflect on where we are, we can usually trace the path that brought us to the present.
For instance, I have always loved reading. One of my proudest moments occurs when someone new enters our home and comments on the number of books we own. Each book has a personal story attached to it: when I had read it, with whom I had read it, and what I loved or hated about it.
Somehow, I’ve always known that my path would lead in the direction of reading and writing. But I never knew that I would end where I am today – a college professor. In fact, in the past, if anyone would have guessed who would seemingly continue with school throughout their life, they would have guessed my brother. In some ways, I think that we all search for the kinds of returns detailed in the meditation regarding the return to Jesuit service. I know my own goals have their roots in my past: places where I have felt comfortable and I developed a sense of security and a growing sense of self.
In some ways, we never leave those comfort zones. But as the years pass, we notice the ways in which we have transformed, the lessons that we have learned. Often, we see how we have had to adapt and challenge ourselves. In this way, our return becomes one of triumph: how far have we come from our starting point?
Perhaps this is one of the most important lessons that I learn from my students each semester as the end approaches: our ability to return in such a way that demonstrates personal growth. Once we realize this, it becomes easier to trace the influences that have guided us and the ways in which we have seen God working mysteriously behind the scenes.
Dr. Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.