January 24th, 2018: Presence & Compassion

     The combo of snowshoeing, Mr. Bobak’s amazing breakfast for dinner, and a late night made getting up this morning difficult. Today was the first day that I really had trouble getting up and out of bed. However, by the time we hit school the tiredness was gone, and not because of coffee (which I have gone without in an attempt to cut my dependence on that delicious nectar of the gods), but instead that jolt of energy came when one of my students asked to play me 1 v 1 at basketball. I played a sluggish, close game and by the end of it, I was wide-awake. I realized later that I woke up not out of some need to beat a seventh grader in basketball, but because the first thing he asked to do when he saw me was to play. That theme stuck in for most of the day; having a few days to get to know each other, the students and I really have started to bond. It is the little things that make me realize that this trip is worth it, and that I am not just “passing through” or here to fill my service requirement. One such moment was when the student that I have been reading with every day for the week was visibly upset that I was not able to read with him because I had to set up an activity for later. I knew I wasn’t just passing through when I was upset too because he and I wouldn’t have our daily reading time that I had become accustomed to (plus I’m invested in that book now too, but that’s beside the point). Every kid I have interacted with proved to me that this trip has value.
     We still have two days left on this trip and I know saying goodbye is going to be excruciating. These kids give me so much hope, not only for their futures but for my own as well. I have a habit of letting every setback, especially in relationships (I don’t mean just romantic), and letting that hold me back from enjoying them, or convincing me that the relationship was over for good, or most of all letting one negative destroy all of the positives. Today in class, we talked about similes and metaphors, so I figured I should use one here: These setbacks are like going on a swing, gaining momentum, going so high up that all of my worries melt away, then being hurled from the swing and hitting the ground, hard. Every one of these kids goes through this with every immersion group that comes in. In fact, the better the group, the worse they hit the ground when their time is up and the immersion group heads home. But unlike them, I often stay on the ground long after the fall and let that pain negate all of the fun and good of everything leading up to it. These kids have the strength to swing week after week, fall, get up, and get back on that swing with almost no hesitation. They never let the fact that our time together has an expiration date stop them from forming a relationship with me. So I made it my mission to ensure that I did the same with them.
    The kids are not just some statistic, they are real kids, and that last part is so true. I told one of the other guys on this trip that I was really nervous before our first day. I have spoken in front of almost the entire junior class and their families, I love public speaking, and I’ve been a camp counselor for 3 years, but I was terrified before my first day. My friend reminded me that not matter what, these kids are still kids. This trip proves to me that point; they are just as energetic as every camper I have ever had. The little moments are what have made this trip so great; from one of my students giving me an origami swan that he made, or debating NBA or the NFL at lunch.  They have shown me that in spite of the circumstances surrounding them, there is always hope for better. The teachers have also shown me what it means to truly love your job. Calvert Hall has teachers who similarly love their job and students, but De LaSalle is on another level. Many teachers came from the LV program, fell in love with the school, and stayed in Browning to help do something that they believe could make a true change in these kids’ lives. 
     The people on this trip have helped me grow just as much as the students. We were told after the first day that we’d hate each other, but if anything the long days bonded us more. From beans to getting cars out of mud, to intense games of Presidents, to vine references that have made these bonds of brotherhood strong. I truly hope that after this trip we remain like this, and do not simply become people who give each other the courtesy nod in the hallway as we walk by.

               After spending the previous two days at the De LaSalle Blackfeet School, I assumed I had seen it all; that there was nothing new I would run into. That could not have been more wrong. The morning started out about as normal as any this week. Waking up was a struggle, as every ounce of my body ached in soreness from our previous snowshoeing adventure. Arriving at school around our usual time, we began our routine session of morning basketball. As kids rolled in, the gym filled up with kids from the whole school coming together to shoot hoops. These times are some of my favorites because you get to see people of all ages and grades playing with each other, and being able to see kids from your class getting in on the action (especially the fourth graders!). Helping out in class is always a pleasure because one finds that there is much to learn in the service of others. It is an enriching experience that simply has no parallels. In preparation for Catholic Schools Week, the classes do a lot of work to get ready, including a door-decorating contest and essay contest. Seeing the ideas that fourth-graders are able to come up with blows my mind. After lunch and recess, we had the opportunity to speak with a woman who was 74 years old and had lived during the early days of the modern clash between the Blackfeet and the United States. Her insights about Blackfeet culture, rituals, and history were very enlightening. She helped to further my understanding of the actual culture of the Blackfeet people as well as help me to examine my own cultural heritage. I also got the opportunity to purchase artwork from a local Blackfoot artist. His work was quite interesting, as he explained how its abstractness was symbolic of the spiritual essence that was represented by his work rather than giving an actual realistic depiction of Blackfoot culture. After coming back to the mission, we all helped to make dinner, when all of the sudden we found that we had to help get one of our rented cars unstuck from the mud. The task proved to be more of a challenge than we had first anticipated, but with the help of a combined team effort, our struggle proved to pay off. We celebrated with a night of pizza, laughs, and beans. After some powerful reflection, we all are now ready to tackle tomorrow with as much ardent zeal as we came into the trip with.