Kids have all sorts of strange ideas regarding what they want to do when they grow up. I remember that in my childhood, some of my responses to that question were conventional (teacher), and some were common but unlikely (astronaut). And then there were my more idiosyncratic answers: I’m not sure how many kids today grow up thinking about becoming a trucker. I also remember taking some kind of a career assessment test in high school in which I may have indicated a certain openness to digging ditches. Perhaps it was the appeal of “honest work” whereby at the end of the day one could point to real concrete results.
Clearly, I did not become all of these things—in this one life, you can’t do everything. Looking at my life’s activity though, I am amazed at how many echoes I see of these previous interests. I’m not a trucker, I just drive a lot. I don’t normally dig ditches per se, but I typically have the chance to engage in genuine physical labor several times a year… and in the Dominican Republic, this did include digging trenches for community aqueducts. My early dreams of going into orbit might end up amounting to nothing (but who knows); I’ve spent the greatest portion of my professional life as a teacher, but even that is not something that I see myself locked into.
I remain drawn to many kinds of work experiences, none of which I expect to fully define me or the course of my life. In this life you can’t do everything, but I have managed to do a lot of varied things, and not just recreationally.
Our lives are shaped by the dynamic between the freedoms we inhabit and the commitments we take on, whether freely chosen or imposed upon us. In making my perpetual vows as a Marist Brother, I have freely committed to being a certain way: living prayerfully in community as a chaste celibate. Sometimes that commitment necessitates saying a definitive “yes” to one possibility or a definitive “no” to another. It also leaves a lot of room to freely embellish and color in between these lines. As is the case for many of us, much of my life is lived in the gray areas that call upon me to exercise both creativity and discerning integrity. On the most abstract level, this may not be so different from people who have chosen to grow into other commitments, such as marriage and family life.
Nonetheless, I am conscious of and grateful for the immense freedom that religious life has given me, particularly thanks to the three vows of poverty, celibate chastity, and obedience. Because I am not bound to supporting a family, I have greater freedom than many to consider my professional options with little regard to compensation: my guiding focus is simply how I can use my gifts to authentically serve God’s people as an agent of our Marist spirit and mission, while bringing in whatever very basic amount of income my community requires. As vocation minister, although my travelling calendar is busier than ever over the course of this next year, I do not need to worry about neglecting a spouse or children. In both these ways, I am free to do what feels necessary without regard for professional advancement, growing a pension, or neglecting loved ones. Even the vow of obedience helps to define my freedom: while it may impose limits at times, it also challenges me to not be taken hostage by routines and instead listen to the call of where I am needed at this moment, whether near or far, whether in a similar ministry or something quite different.
As a novice, I remember being struck by the example of Bro. Kevin Moran. Retired now, Kevin was an assistant librarian when I first met him—after a life in which he had been not only a teacher but also a school administrator. Yes, he ascended a career ladder of sorts, commensurate with his abilities and energies, but he was also free to descend that same ladder as he got older, without having to worry about sustaining a particular standard of living. That possibility for downward mobility truly spoke to me. These days, I am visiting the brothers in El Paso, Texas, including Bro. Todd Patenaude. Todd worked in our schools for a little while, both as teacher and briefly as an administrator, but then went on to facilitate outdoor adventure-based retreats, build houses with Habitat for Humanity, help run an orphanage in Kingston, Jamaica, and now engages young people with migration-centered service-learning retreats at the USA’s border with Mexico. Again, Todd serves as an example of how this life can open one up to a diverse world of possibilities. Other brothers have chosen to be a stable part of a school community over years and decades, giving witness by their constancy.
I am grateful for the opportunity to be a Marist Brother, but within that I am grateful that this life allows me the possibility to do a variety of different things at different points in my life, whether at home or abroad, in schools or in other settings. Even while teaching, my fulfilling ministry in the classroom would be punctuated by interludes of brief international encounters, youth retreats, construction projects, and opportunities to directly serve those in need.
I am glad to be a Marist Brother and glad that through this life I can do not just one thing, but many. I still can’t do everything—or at least not all things at once—but there are many different things I can do, a little bit of each at a time.
This week’s “ear candy” comes to us via Dave Dudley, one of the foremost performers of trucker music (for those of you who didn’t know there was such a genre). This speaks not only to my early dream of trucking and my present reality of frequent travel, but also busyness in general and that push to get home and rest. Ashley’s Stahl article in Forbes on avoiding burnout at work provides helpful advice: part of seeking excitement and a diversity of work experiences means taking on a large amount of opportunities, which can lead to over-extending oneself. Without self-care, it becomes impossible to care for others who rely on you, whether at work or at home.
Ear Candy: “Six Days on the Road” by Dave Dudley
Brain Food: “5 Ways to Avoid Burnout at Work” by Ashley Stahl
Come back next Saturday for a new post!