What I nearly missed

What I nearly missed … A reminder to notice.

Wide-eyed newness brings its insecurities, slow starts and wrinkled road maps, but it also brings a new sense of the possible, a renewal of life for those of us who’ve been here a bit.

Third year in the school, there’s no pretending I’m a veteran, but my emergent sixth sense told me to go downstairs often that first week of school. I turned the corner Tuesday to the biggest stretch of freshman lockers and freshmen trying to open them.

“Garrett, can you help this student?” a real veteran teacher asked; “I forgot how to do it.”

“Of course,” I smiled and turned to the young woman — “Do you have your combination?”

The student opened her hand, producing a paper with three numbers on it, wrinkled and smeared by some combination of August heat and nervousness. She smiled and offered a helpless shrug.

My hands flipped to the task, automatic, muscle memory, daily ritual, quick work flashing back and recalling my own first day, that tan locker two thousand miles away, clicking open successfully just like this one now.

“Here, you try — don’t forget to jump that middle number.”

A blank stare.

“Oh, I mean, you find it, go through it once, then, once you hit it the second time, go left to the third number.”

Spinning the black dial five or six times, she pulled it. Nope. And again, nope. But third time was a charm and she pulled it open, triumphant, thanked me as she grabbed her books and pushed it shut.

“You’re welcome. I’m Garrett. What’s your name? … Well, Ellie, welcome to Red Cloud High School — have a great first week.”

I’m not sure how good Ellie is with her locker these days, but she hasn’t needed much help to share her giftedness at the school — curiosity in the classroom, creativity in her clubs, compassion for her classmates.

Whether in the workplace or the parish, the school or the neighborhood, we do well to welcome newcomers — the immigrant, the transfer and the freshman among us. And though we may not always be veterans, we often know just enough to be a huge help in a hard moment, a start of something like community when we exchange handshakes and names. It all begins with noticing who.

About the author

Jesuit Scholastic Garrett Gundlach, S.J., Arts ’09, teaches at Red Cloud High School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

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