I’m about to break every rule regarding the do’s and don’ts of entertaining an audience. I’m going to tell you about my vacation.
My wife and I just returned from the most wonderful trip - nearly three weeks in France, primarily in Paris. This was our first time traveling to Europe, and I was equally excited and anxious. Both Cathy and I worked diligently over the past nine months to learn some basic French, but this did little to alleviate my trepidations when our first encounters with French speakers washed over me like a wave.
That being said, it’s amazing what you can learn by simply watching others and following their lead. After just a few days, we had our footing, and we had a command of public transportation and the use of GoogleMaps that enabled us to negotiate the city fairly well in spite of our language limitation. When we did have an issue, we weren’t afraid to ask for assistance, and people responded with great charity. In short, we were assimilated into the routine hustle and bustle of Paris.
One of the general curiosities we all likely have when visiting new places is seeing how our norms, practices, and colloquialisms compare. We also want to get a sense of the people themselves, and to draw some generalizations based on our encounters. Are people from this town/region/country welcoming, conservative, liberal, boorish, authentic, trustworthy...? With that in mind, I’d like to share a few quick anecdotes.
The first stems from a routine practice that I’ve witnessed in numerous cities from Paris to New York, Chicago, Washington D.C, and more - how we handle encounters with homeless people on the subway. As in the States, such encounters are relatively regular, so when it first happened in Paris, I looked to the actions of others to inform my strategy. Predictably, our collective response was to pretend that this particularly vocal homeless person wasn't there. We simply diverted our eyes and attention to other things.
Then something remarkable happened that I feel privileged to have witnessed. A person approached the homeless man, stood directly in front of him, looked into his eyes as if to say, “I see you,” respectfully and tenderly handed him a few coins, and then returned to the place he had previously been standing. Not a word was spoken, yet so much was said.
Some 10 days later, my wife and I traveled by train to Versailles. After a long day spent walking the palace grounds we were set to return to Paris via the same train. While waiting on the station platform, there was an announcement over the intercom that caused other would-be passengers to begin rushing for the exit. Of course, Cathy and I understood none of the announcement, but it became quite evident that our plans had changed.
While following the crowds in a panic, we learned that our train’s line had been shut down for the evening. We were instructed to board a bus which would take us to a different station where we could try our luck on a different line. The bus was full of frantic people, none more so than us as we did our best to solicit help from complete strangers who themselves were attempting to find their way. It was in this chaos that a voice from behind us emerged, saying, “I’ll help you. I’m traveling to the same Paris station, so come with me.” And help us she did. Not only did she lead us to our new platform, she stood with us until the train arrived, she sat with us during the ride back to Paris, AND she rushed us all the way to the open doors of our connecting train which we boarded seconds before its departure, leaving our guardian angel standing on the platform waving.
Among the many great experiences on this trip, these two encounters are imprinted on my soul. What have they revealed to me? How fortunate I am to work for and with young people. The woman in Versailles was in her mid-20s. The person on the subway, a boy of 13 or 14.
As another school year begins and us adults argue about school mask mandates, critical race theory, and all sorts of other issues, our Catholic school teachers and students are going about the business of teaching and learning. The Jesuits refer to this as “accompanying young people in the creation of a hope-filled future,” and I can think of nothing that is more human or more important.
Education is messy. Each day, the myriad of human encounters produce joy, conflict, frustration, consolation, sadness, pride, and more. It’s a rollercoaster ride that can leave teachers and administrators feeling wrung out. Yet it’s in these moments that room is made for the Holy Spirit to enter and inch us closer to our final destiny.
The world seems so complicated right now. It’s the simplicity of the two experiences mentioned above that made them so personally impactful. These two young people have illuminated my path to a hope-filled future. These are the types of moments that inspire educators to push all of their chips in year after year.
Blessings to all of our young people, and to the parents and teachers accompanying them on their journeys.
CONTRIBUTOR: Jeff Hausman is the Founder & President of Arrupe Virtual
vol 4 issue 2