I began my search for a more fulfilling use of my talents and skills two years ago, and every major decision since has been made through that lens. I was talking with Fr. Anthony about it and he commented, “You sound like the young man who asks Jesus about what he must ‘do’ to obtain the kingdom of heaven. It is a very young person’s approach: do, do, do. Sometimes you have to simply ‘be.’” He paused a moment, and then grinned, pleased with the pun he was about to throw down. “Do, be, do, be do,” he sang to the tune of Strangers In the Night.
“That was horrible,” I said chuckling. “Besides,” I continued, “Jesus’ answer to the young man was, ‘Give up your earthly possessions and take up your cross.’ Not exactly the same thing.”
“But the young man had to do the one thing he could not,” he replied. “Sometimes we have to change our approach. And let’s face it, you would rather ‘do’ than ‘be.’”
I went around the following days using that conversation as a “go to” whenever I found myself contemplating what else I could do in this search. I simply brushed it off with the thought, “Nothing. Just be here in Jamaica.” I found that very frustrating. There had to be a list I could make of potential next steps, or resources I could contact to help me move this journey along. There had to be an action item I could accomplish. I had to convince myself that being here at the high school was the action item and it was enough for now.
A few days later the school received a surprise visitor at the school: Lorna Goodison. Ms. Goodison is a very successful poet, a native Jamaica, and currently a professor at a college in Michigan. I recently attended the annual Calabash literature festival and purchased two books of her work. (Recall I used the title of one of her poems in a previous blog post.) I don’t know how Fr. Anthony connected with her – though I should stop wondering as he seems to be connected to everyone here – but he acted quickly to have her visit the school and speak with the students of his literature class.
Ms. Goodison is a very warm and perceptive woman. You get the sense she has seen and done a lot, enjoys observing life, and knows she is fortunate to have found and developed her gift for poetry. As she explained to us, she did not set out to be a poet. She was working in advertising and poetry found her by accident. Her co-workers knew she wrote it as a hobby and connected her to someone, who then passed along a public forum where she could submit her work, and before long, she became more widely known.
Our guest graciously fielded questions from our soon-to-be-high-school-graduates once they felt comfortable asking them. Getting them involved was, as I like to say, like playing handball with a drape. After a few attempts to jumpstart the question and answer session with inquiries of my own, they finally bit. Echoing an earlier and similar experience I had with these same students when I arrived, they asked Ms. Goodison if there is much money in being a poet. She gently chuckled and said “No.”
“You seem okay with that,” I interjected, hoping to keep an obvious line of thought from slipping away.
“I have a gift,” she said confidently. “The money is immaterial.”
She went on to explain the importance of expressing one’s self through poetry and discovering our natural gifts and developing them fully. She ended by saying, “There is a corollary to having a gift: the pride of knowing you used it as best you could.”
A few days later, Ms. McIntosh, the school’s science teacher, approached me and asked me, “Mr. Konold, do you have a scientific mind?” To say Ms. McIntosh is shy would be like suggesting Bill Gates is well off. Whenever I greet her and ask how she is, she ducks her head, says, “Fine,” and moves along like she is being chased by fire.
“I suppose,” I replied. “I have an engineering degree, if that counts.”
“Good,” she said curtly. “You can help me organize the science fair.”
“What science fair?” I asked.
“The one I have just decided we are going to organize.”
So, similar to the community center opening and the Disability Arts Festival – and not entirely unlike Ms. Goodison and poetry - planning and organizing a big event had once again found me, and I was not even looking for it. I was simply trying to “be.”
I am excited about the project. The school has never had a science fair, but it is exactly the kind of event the priests have wanted to add to its curriculum. I remember a mix of excitement and dread with my own science fair experiences. I liked conducting experiments but dreaded presenting them. How times have changed with that latter part. If I could go back and give Young Mark my current enthusiasm for performing – I never meet a crowd or microphone I don’t like – I might have placed a little better at the Connecticut State Science Fair. Oh, what might have been!
I am going to close with a third item that recently came to me without my looking for it: de-worming medicine. Worms can be a hazard for those walking barefoot (which I do not) but can also be contracted through other means. We recently finished treating one of the guard dogs for just such a problem. Pablito hurt his paw – we are still not sure how – and worms infested the wound immediately. We had to treat him nightly and now he is right as rain. One sympathizes, I guess. The medicine was not much to write home about – like cough syrup only more bitter. For those of you who have joked about my skinniness being connected to an inner tapeworm, I guess we will see if you were right.