Father Ryan stared at the ceiling. He could hear the school coming alive with the sunrise. Students would be dressing and heading for breakfast, and after breakfast he would be conducting the morning chapel service. There was only one small problem, he didn’t have a message prepared and that was the most important part of chapel. Oh, he had plenty of ideas and was ready to get to work, but then Father Kasey showed up and talked him into going to that poker game. He had put it off to the last minute and when push came to shove, he didn’t even give it that last minute.
He stood up at the pulpit and cleared his throat. He gave a decent message. It was a bit long and he rambled because he had no real plan and had not practiced. His colleagues told him he did a good job and the students seemed to like it. There was only one problem: it was not his best. It was not near his best, and yet, it was still pretty good. And that was the story of his life, he was pretty damn good at everything but never did his best at anything. And so here he was, an assistant headmaster at a good but not great private school and this was as far as he would get.
He told himself he was capable of doing the big jobs, but deluded himself into thinking he was taking the happy path because the big jobs were just not worth the effort…he would rather live his life right? But it wasn’t like he’d been to the top of his field and stepped back. He hadn’t tried. He hadn’t made the effort.
And so every night, as he lay in bed, in that place where his inner voice couldn’t be silenced, he was haunted by the fact that he could have been so much more. He could have served so much more. He didn’t know what his mind was capable of because he never challenged it. He would fix that soon. He would fix it tomorrow. And so every night, he went to bed, telling himself a lie.
And then he woke up. The awakening came in the form of a 5’5 15 year old by the name of Joshua. He responded to the knock at his open doorway: “come in Joshua, what can I help you with?” He hadn’t spent much time with Joshua so he didn’t even resent that he’d interrupted his online Chess match. Besides, it would be over quickly, most of the boys came in because of a struggle with a particular teacher or maybe they were homesick or had received a ‘Dear John’ letter. He had answers for every problem. He would give him some encouraging words, ask the boy to tell him how things went and send him on his way. Five minutes tops.
But he didn’t have an answer for Joshua.
He sat in stunned silence, looking at the boy, trying to save face, to defend himself, but he couldn’t find the words. Because there were no words. Finally he croaked out “Joshua, I appreciate your honesty. Let’s see what you think of next weeks message”. He gave Joshua a condescending smile, not because he was condescending towards him but because he had to do something to regain some dignity. “Off with you, we’ll speak again”. He shut his laptop, remembering but ignoring the half finished chess game. He grabbed his coat and hat and headed out for a walk.
The crisp fall air and the leaves, dazzling in the bright sunlight make him feel suddenly more alive. It was like he had been walking around in a faded color photograph and someone had turned the saturation level up to max. Joshua’s word echoed in his head “Why don’t you give cool messages any more?” He said all the boys hated chapel, no surprise there, but the times they enjoyed it were when he delivered the message. But then suddenly they stopped being interesting, like he was mailing it in. They even figured out one was exactly the same as another he’d given. Ouch. Teenage boys can be brutal. But the only message he thought about while he walked was the message he was leaving with these boys. He turned around and headed back to his office.
His mission was now clear, actually it wasn’t a new mission. It was the same mission that led him to this post…he wanted to help inspire a generation of young men. To be the best they could be, to make a difference in the world. And so he sat down and spent three hours on his next message. He went to the cafeteria and grabbed some lunch, but eschewed his normal place at the faculty tables and sat with some of the older boys. He just listened as they talked about the upcoming lacrosse match with their crosstown rivals and lied about their prowess with girls. After lunch he went back and wrote another message, about how young men should treat young women. The discussion at lunch informed much of the message and when he read the finished product he realized it was hilarious…and on point.
About a month later Joshua came to see him again. “Another critique of my speaking Josh?”
“Oh no sir, you’ve been great!” Joshua seemed hesitant “well, the guys and I were just wondering if you could say something to Dr. Ramsey, I mean he puts us to sleep EVERY TIME”.
He shook his head “Joshua.”
Joshua took off down the hall but shouted over his shoulder “He’s really a bore you know!” He couldn’t help laughing because Joshua reminded him exactly of someone…himself.
He never delivered a mediocre message again.
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