Lessons in my Pockets

pocketWe’re coming up on nearly a month since graduation day passed.  With the closing of another school year, we’ve ushered in quiet, reflective days here at the Hillel.  May always feels like a chance to look back; June is the time to start looking forward.

I imagine this is how many of our seniors also feel.  I felt particularly connected to this year’s senior class.  I started my job at GW in July of 2010, the same summer the Class of 2014 was graduating from high school and looking towards a new life in Foggy Bottom.  Their jitters and hopes and dreams were tied up in mine.

Before the chaos of this year’s commencement, we held our Senior Shabbat.  We gathered in the back driveway, soon to be demolished, under strings of lights and a perfect May night.  I rushed around all afternoon, setting the table with wind as my main challenger, finding the ever-elusive wine openers hidden in desk drawers, gathering odds and ends to help make the rickety tables evoke the comfort of one’s family Shabbat table.  And then, I stopped and took it all in.

Around the packed tables, I saw stories.  Coffee dates galore, memories for the good and the bad.  I remembered one student crying in my office, struggling with her parent’s hardships.  I recalled an email I had sent four years before, getting wind of sadness that one was bringing with him to college and asking how I could be supportive in his transition.  I remembered texts of celebration, announcements of new internships, and questions on how to approach an interview.

One of my favorite teachings in Judaism refers to the two notes we should carry around in each pocket.  One note reminds us that for our sake, the world was created; it builds us up and reminds us that opportunity abounds.  In the other pocket, a note says we are but dust and ashes; when our feathers are puffed, we need to turn inwards a bit and find our sense of humility.

Working with college students and seeing them graduate isn’t so far removed from this idea.  As I looked around the Shabbat table, I felt so proud of myself – of the role I was able to take in so many lives, of the relationships I had cultivated and the encouragement I was able to give.  Equally I remembered, it’s not about me.  Hillel and the role I play is but a small stop on a long journey for our students.  Some will stay in touch but most will not.  Life keeps rolling.  And that’s a good thing.

In what facets of your life can you take credit for doing great things, holding pride in your accomplishments?  And where is it appropriate to take a step back and remove yourself from the storyline?

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