Thursday, June 08, 2006
Nobody was around.
Inside the Chapel of St. Ignatius, the young teacher knelt in the very back row of the eastern pews. Though he wasn't Catholic, he appreciated the quiet beauty of the chapel and the chance that it afforded him to meditate. To pray.
"Please... Father God... please..."
The young teacher was silently pleading, hands covering his face in humility as he prayed. How many times had he been put into this position before? He had lost count. For the upteenth time in his life, the young teacher knew that he was in place in dire need of the divine... a place that was ripe for a miracle.
"I have never asked anything petty... so I humbly beg of you..."
In a few moments, the young teacher knew he'd have to leave the chapel. He had come onto campus for an important meeting, and he knew the outcome would definitely steer his future. The young teacher's nervousness had prompted him to come early and visit the chapel. For over an hour, he had labored to banish his doubts, and the young teacher's spirit felt slightly bolstered, filled a holy expectancy. Surely, God will not let me down, he thought.
And yet his faith seemed to still hang from the narrowest of threads.
"I'm sorry this has happened, but I really don't see any other way around this situation."
The advisor spoke in a sympathetic voice as he looked at the young teacher. The advisor's tweed blazer framed his broad build and thick white mustache gave him a grandfatherly-aura. The young teacher searched for the words to say to the advisor, but his throat felt dry. He heard the professor clearing her throat, and he turned his head to make eye contact with her as she spoke.
"I understand that there are extenuating circumstances, with your cooperating teacher being gone for 3 weeks during the beginning of your internship, but still..." She shook her head and then looked at the advisor. The young teacher could perceive that there was a silent communication between the professor and the advisor. She was prompting the advisor to say something. The advisor sighed and finally let it out.
"Despite the fact that you have met all the requirements of the performance assistance plan that we set up, because your cooperating teacher has spoken to the principal of the school against you, both of them are unwilling to let you teach the class solo even though you're already teaching 3/4ths of the time..."
The young teacher froze in his chair... he hadn't heard this before. His mind raced furiously, as he thought, 'But if I can't teach the class solo...'
The advisor continued.
"As you know, teaching the class solo is a core requirement of your internship, and if they won't allow you to do that, that's no reason for you to stay there. So again, my advice to you is that put in to withdraw from the internship immediately for personal reasons..."
The advisor's words trailed off as he saw the face of the young teacher. In an instant, the young teacher's spirit was crushed. Over 5 months of hard work... gone. Withdrawn.
"I know it hurts to have to do this after you've invested so much in teaching that class and you care about your students, but you don't have really any other choice. You need a good recommendation from this experience and if the people you're working with in your internship aren't willing to give you one..." the professor spoke softly, her voice wavering slowly as she tried to console the young teacher.
"After you'd had some time off to think, maybe you could try again in January. Of course, that's contingent upon you meeting certain requirements..."
There was disappointment in the eyes of the professor, whose usually business-like manner seemed to be deeply bothered by what had happened to the young teacher. As head the program, she was the one who had originally interviewed him upon his application to the university's grad school. The young teacher averted his eyes. The entire moment was all too shameful, too embarassing... here was someone who had placed confidence in his abilities, and he had let her down too.
The young teacher managed to weakly nod his head while speaking his reply. He tried to stifle the rising emotions he felt, but choked up, his voice still cracked as he whispered, "Alright... I understand..."
The advisor stood up and patted the young teacher on the shoulder as he began to leave the room. "I have every confidence that you'll be a great teacher someday..."
The meeting, and the young teacher's hopes, had ended. The professor turned and gave the young teacher several forms to sign, which he tried to do in a calm and quick manner. His hand was shaking with the shock. When he'd finished and he began walking slowly out of the room, the young teacher raised his right hand to massage his brow, but it wasn't because the muscles on his face felt tight.
It was to hide the tear that was beginning to run down from his eye.
The thread drew taut.
A week and a half later, the young teacher sat at home in front of his computer, staring at the classified ads. A trip to the liquor store had yielded two economically priced bottles of soju, which the young teacher drank slowly from the lowballer glass next to his keyboard.
Where prayer had failed him, alcohol had gently succeeded in aiding him in both sleep and suppressing the memories of the recent past - the faces and pictures of the students he taught and so dearly loved; the unsympathetic stare of the teacher he had trusted in his internship and who had coldly cast him out; the faces of his family, girlfriend, classmates, friends, and school staff as he had to repeat the news over and over again. It had been hard enough for the young teacher to come to terms with the unhappiness of it all by himself... but the deepest pain was in telling them what had happened, to know that once again, he couldn't succeed despite his best efforts.
Despite their comforting and attempts to otherwise convince him it was not a matter of failure, the young teacher couldn't convince himself otherwise. After all, he was the one who was stupid enough to stay after the warning signs were there. He was the dumbass who had made simple mistakes in an environment that was unforgiving of those things, even after he had made efforts to correcting them.
The young teacher lifted his glass and swallowed a large sip of the soju, warming him as it came to rest in the pit of his belly.
There was also grim task of phoning potential employers, schools that he had interviewed with just weeks before, to quietly inform them that he would be unable to work for them. The young teacher didn't want to even think of the bridge-burning that was resulting in being "one of those people" who applied for a job, interviewed, and then suddenly withdrew.
Scrolling through the job ads, the young teacher took another gulp of soju. He knew the routine well - the sending out of cover letters and resumes. The endless phonecalls that led nowhere, the idling time as days slipped by.
With the withdrawal from his internship, the young teacher's plans had been smashed, crushed into dust. With no internship, there would be no graduation... and with no graduation, there would be no degree or certification, no job and no working and absolute zero chance to pursue the what young teacher had before assumed that God had intended for him - independently supporting his family, working and helping children, and maybe even marriage.
Yes, marriage. The young teacher's girlfriend had been particularly crushed by the news, as the couple had talked of the possibility of getting married during their first year working. There was no way her family could accept the possibility of her marrying a jobless and penniless bastard who couldn't graduate school, much less provide for a family, and the young teacher couldn't blame them. No apology or "I'm sorry" could bridge the patheticness of his merits as a potential groom.
Once again, his life was pushed back a year. Once again, he was consigned to wait, and once again his prayers were left unanswered in silence. Once again, he was left to breathe in the drifting ashes from the burning wreckage of his dreams, and once again, no prayer or alcohol could ease that reality into the young teacher's mind.
The thread drew tighter, and frayed.
Sunday morning, the young teacher woke up and drove to church. Arriving in the church's parking lot, the radio suddenly played a song he remembered singing in a high school. It was a song whose words spoke of God's love, his kindess, and his provision for his people. The lyrics exulted the greatness of God and his faithfulness to those who chose to follow him.
The young teacher quickly turned the radio off and froze in his car, paralyzed. He felt ill, even sickened, and at the same time, he mused with the realization that now, he was neither young nor a teacher anymore. He was just embittered and wounded... a broken man.
The broken man thought back to all the times he had toiled and quietly suffered, led on by a blind hope that there was a reason, a plan, or purpose for the hardships. He remembered the months he had languished after graduating university, and he remembered the doubts he had in returning home from Japan. He remembered how student loans and various bills had demolished everything he had saved from his years abroad, and even with his supposed blessing of admission to graduate school had come at a price - with no means to pay for it, the broken man had relied upon government loans whose balance would now increase significantly behind the build up of interest.
He remembered his father and uncles and grandfathers, dead before their time, and felt flushed the suspicion that again, his life would be over before he turned 50. The broken man felt stupid and foolish, and as he sat in the driver's seat, his hands gripped the steering wheel, squeezing it tight until his knuckles grew white. Other people might draw strength from the blessings they had been provided in their hardship, but the broken man had never taken solace in the knowledge of other people's injustices. It was no comfort that others suffered, and the unfairness of other people's lives - cancers and diseases, broken families and loneliness, unemployment and poverty - they were as equally as outrageous to him as his own circumstances.
There was no sanctuary here, there was no balm in Gilead, or hidden blessings. There was just familiar emptiness, the coldness of a soul being hollowed out. The utter feeling of being dead, and yet still, somehow breathing.
The broken man restarted his car, and drove away from the church, away from it all and turned straight back home. Arriving back, he ate lunch, drank a beer, changed his clothes, took a shower, and went to bed, closing his eyes with quiet sigh. There was no yelling, or screaming, or raging against fate. There was just one thought.
The forsaken somehow must learn to accept being forsaken.
The thread had snapped.
(chronicle I, interlude, chronicle II)
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