Thursday, January 20, 2011



I’ll call him Charles. He failed my Sophomore Religion course last semester because he had been overwhelmed by very real and terrible difficulties in his life, only some of them of his own making. He pretty much shut down in the middle of the semester and failed five tests in a row.

All during this ordeal he was seeing one of our great counseling staff and had the love and support of several of his teachers, but he just couldn’t pull himself together enough to do his work.

One day after school he and I were talking about his problems and suddenly I lost my patience and shouted at him, “You are being a d____ victim! You’re choosing to be a victim in all of this!”

Then by some grace or other I remembered the book I’d just finished reading, entitled "Deep Survival, which I had just finished blogging about; I found myself suggesting to him “What if you were to start seeing yourself not as a victim but as a survivor?” Then I began telling him about some of the people described in this book, most of them ordinary folks who had survived in deadly situations while others around them had died. He seemed interested. “Would you like to borrow the book and read it?” I offered. “Sure!” he said. It was in late October that I gave him the book. Being a typical sixteen-year-old boy, he never mentioned the book again, even though we've been interacting as he takes retests in order to pass last semester's course.


Last night I bumped into Charles as we were walking into church to sing vespers – four nights a week groups of our resident students come and pray vespers with us. Just as we got to the door into church he draped his arm over my shoulder and whispered clearly and confidently, “Father Al, I’m no longer a victim!” We proceeded into vespers without another word. But he had made my day -- or maybe my week.

After church each evening several of the monks wait in an informal receiving line and shake hands with each student and thank him for coming to pray with us. When I shook Charles’ hand I asked him to wait for me. We sat in a parlor and talked for ten minutes. He told me that he has been getting all A’s in his courses this semester, except for one B on a test, a grade which got him upset. He’s not quite sure how the turnaround happened, but he has a vocabulary for it: he is becoming a survivor instead of a victim, and he likes the feeling.

I reminded him that most survival stories involve lots of setbacks, and that he should be ready for a few himself. And he knows that this is only a beginning. But this is now one happy kid, with a positive self image and an enthusiasm about him that I've never seen before. He attributes some of that to my challenging him to read Deep Survival. It was one of those lucky inspirations that people of faith know are not due to mere luck.

Stories like his are not exactly a dime a dozen in my life, but they are frequent enough that I want to keep working with kids for as long as the Lord allows me.

Have you experienced some "lucky inspiration" recently that was clearly more that just luck? I'd love to hear about it.
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1 comment:

  1. Actually, I am planning to use your new book for a friend of mine. His brother died in a tragic accident, and he has not been the same since. Perhaps reading about your experiences will help him.