Touch a heart

The words “please walk” were powerless amidst the sea of kids running and screaming. I diffused one touchy situation by calmly helping to pick up some papers that had fallen after a collision. Afterwards, I inched closer to the corner of the hall so as to more effectively slow students. I sighed. 

It was this same nonsense day after day in the passing time between classes for this summer program. I was a mentor and an educator, not a hall policewoman. Teachers are always all three, but somehow here this summer there was too much time spent on the latter. Again I thought “Lord, this isn’t what I signed up for. I had wanted somehow to make a difference in their lives. I know I am not doing so. I feel sadly out of place here.”

I felt a gentle tug at my arm. It was too gentle a touch and voice to be an emergency. The student was perhaps a rising seventh-grader who was not in any of the classes I had visited. His innocent yet radiant, peaceful smile calmed me. He started talking to me about asteroids. He was showing me his drawings of asteroids striking planets. Amidst the chaos streaming by us he had found me to talk about science! 

The asteroid in his pictures was striking the earth. I recognized the significance of that. I looked again into his smiling eyes. I wondered what lay behind that picture. I gently asked if he would like some more information on asteroids. Against the backdrop of all the other times this program’s students had said no, his yes was refreshing. 

Though the work is fictional, in the book “The Shack,” the author Willliam Paul Young has God speaking to the main character Mack. In the book, God says, “Because you are important everything you do is important. Every time you forgive, the universe changes; every time you reach out and touch a heart or life, the world changes; with every kindness and service, seen or unseen, my purposes are accomplished and nothing will ever be the same again.” That is an amazingly powerful image. Each time one touches a heart, the world changes for the better. 

My perspective on my summer experiences changed the instant that boy spoke with me. Alone, I could never change the hallway chaos. In addition, I could not share my science knowledge with uninterested students. My attention was stuck on what I could not change. However, I knew this student was interested in the science. I also hoped to be able to ease his unspoken fears. With the seed that student planted within my heart that morning, my energy was refocused upon a task where I had a chance of success in bringing about a small, but positive change. 

As a Catholic educator, in so many professional development seminars, we spoke about Jesus’ parable of the sower of the seeds (Mt 13:3-9, 18-23). The reference was always on us educators serving Our Lord by sowing seeds for God. Understanding of the reciprocity of the seed-sowing had escaped me. What was my yield from this seed planted within me? In essence, that would be measured with the changes within me and with the student’s changes. 

In the information I gave him, I shifted the focus to asteroids hitting places where no one lived as well as how scientists measure craters. Two hours later he had written me an asteroid story as well as colored me a picture. 

I almost gave him a “Thank you, how nice” type response, but that gentle voice within stopped me. It wasn’t until I picked up his story to describe it that I understood what was nagging at me. The tale had too many scientific details for a made up story. 

I checked the scientific literature. He had some data and ideas that were incorrect, but still readily available on social media. I verified NASA’s data on the asteroid and found the student an article about how scientists are now testing ways to deflect an asteroid. 

For the student, final measurement of the fruits of these discussions might be years down the road. Who knows — 50 years from now when that asteroid finally does approach earth he may lead the scientific team that saves earth. More likely though, he may just feel safe enough to let the asteroid worries fade. With the latter, the fruits would be perhaps invisible, but nevertheless his world would have been changed for the better. 

This week, when you look around you (even amidst chaos) is there one person or situation you feel where you might listen in support or act to plant a seed for change? If so, follow that gentle whisper from within to where God wishes you to touch a heart so as to plant then nurture that seed. Enjoy watching the seedling grow. 

Anchor columnist Helen Flavin is a Catholic scientist, educator and writer.

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