I begin this new school term about 2,280 miles from the Principal’s office I called home for the past eight years. For the first time in two decades, my personal agenda will not follow the academic calendar; my work will not be completed within a school community. Instead, I find myself without a career title, without a defined role, and without a steady paycheck! Transitions never bring out the best in me, but I am able to reconcile this sacrifice of a predictable and comfortable role in lieu of the sacrament I received 36 years ago when I got married.
Today, I am at peace with the decision to be with my husband in Washington, D.C. as he embarks on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in his own career. While I will continue to work part-time as an educational consultant and mentor (have wi-fi, will travel!), I am testing the waters of life outside the bubble of “school.” Already, I have figured out how to read the metro map, met a gentleman who sells micro-greens at the farmers market, and re-connected with a dear friend. We live within blocks of the Potomac River, where winding paths beckon me to miles of exploration. And, I found a quirky coffee bar just around the corner from our apartment.
With some of the unstructured time I now have, I am determined to complete this blog which, as I have stated before, will be comprised of a liturgical year of essays and a selection of Principal’s Ponderings I have published in my school newsletter over the years. Once completed, I will have in essence written my second book – this one reflecting my time as a high school principal.
“Hail Mary, full of grace…”
A Leaky Sink & The Feast of the Assumption
Ordinary Time – August
Knowing that this would be one of our first school gatherings of the year, I made sure to wake up early with the intention of arriving at school with plenty of time to be ready to lead the students across the parking lot to the neighboring parish where we would attend the Feast of the Assumption Mass. However, when I reached under my kitchen sink for the dish soap to rinse my breakfast dishes, I found a puddle where puddles are not supposed to be!
As kind as they were, when I called the plumbing company, they gave me a four-hour window of when they would be available. The next call was to school to let the office know I would be late. I made a resolution to be patient and told myself to believe that God tells us to slow down once in a while by making us wait. As the first half hour crept by, I logged into the Internet to answer email. I put a load of clothes in the washing machine. Only then did I realize I would miss Mass.
I retrieved my iPad, pressed the Pope App, and virtually traveled across the technological “parking lot” to the Piazza della Liberta in Castel Gandolfo, Italy where Pope Francis was celebrating the holy day. Thanks to the amazing clarity of video, I was soon part of the large crowd fanning themselves in the village square as Mass began. Having lived in Italy, I immediately placed myself in the scene as I viewed the shops lining the streets, heard the unique harmony of European police sirens blending with the voices of the choir, and gazed at the ultra-blue sky. Men and women who had borrowed an hour away from work stood alongside groups of religious sisters, young children, housewives, and tourists.
My knowledge of the Italian language is passable, and although I did not comprehend every word, I understood. The beauty of the Mass is that in any language, the rituals are the same. What made this Mass even lovelier was that the Gospel was chanted. I could envision Mary as she spoke those beautiful words: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.”
I will never tire of listening to the Pope (in any language). He speaks with his heart, and his eyes light up as he proclaims his homilies. He made the crowd laugh when he asked them if they prayed the rosary. “Do you pray the rosary every day?” he asked. “But I’m not sure you do…really?”
He focused his homily on three key concepts: struggle, resurrection, and hope. As I listened, I realized that all of us struggle (be it a leaky faucet, a failed test, or much more serious issues like unemployment, ill health, and loss of loved ones). Yet we know resurrection because we experience it every time we share in the Eucharist. And without hope, Pope Francis said, “…we are not Christian.”
At that moment, my prayer turned toward the new school year, which had already begun a few days earlier with fresh energy. In Catholic schools, our calendar is driven in many ways by the Liturgical cycle. As always though, what begins in Ordinary Time often leads us on the most extraordinary paths. My prayer for this year – for all school years – is that we experience the grace to work through the struggles, live as a resurrected faith community, and strive always to hope.
Memories flooded back to me with physical force when one of our students came flying into the office on the first day of school flustered about his “broken” locker. This was the exact same locker that had functioned perfectly the day before when he had come to test it out. Now, a minute before his first class of the year, the locker seemed jammed. He assured the office staff that he had the right combination.
Calmly, our office manager scrutinized the master list and asked the student to recite his combination. Well…he wasn’t the only one to transpose a few numbers that morning!
Nerves and anxiety sparked by a new school year attacked not only students, but also teachers, staff…and the principal! Just the other day, I nearly set off the school security alarm and had to yell for the facility director’s assistance. I had transposed only one number!
For as long as I can remember, my first days of school have been accompanied by strange dreams that weave experiences past and present in a surreal hodgepodge, stomachaches, restless sleep, and incessant talking (just ask my family)!
I believe that being at least a little nervous is a necessary and even healthy reaction to transitions. I never want to become so complacent that I take for granted that all situations will go perfectly. I believe in preparation, hard work, and perseverance.
However, I recently discovered a quotation by tennis champion who said that some of the best advice she received about being nervous came from her sister: “She told me the other day that champions don’t get nervous in tight situations. That really helped me a lot. I decided I shouldn’t get nervous and just do the best I can.”
That is great advice. I spent some time during the first several hours of school walking around the breezeways and peering into classrooms. The looks on students’ faces spoke volumes ranging from, “I can’t wait to dig into this class,” to “How did I get myself into this?”
As the first couple of days passed, teachers began visiting me during spare moments. Their eyes also reflected the anticipation they were feeling about the months ahead. The best part was hearing the faculty talk about how they were enjoying getting to know our new scholars while reacquainting themselves with former students. Coaches shared the same excitement as they signed up our energetic athletes for this year’s extracurricular activities.
Already this week, our routines feel a bit more established, sleep seems less pestered by weird dreams, and hunger pangs have replaced unsettled stomachs.
We are ready to become champions.