With only 365 possible days in a year that is not a leap year, there is a 1/365 chance that any day will fall on a particular person’s birthday. In our home with three people, none of whom share a birthday, that gives a 3/365 chance that any particular day will be someone’s birthday. In addition, our family celebrates two extra days. The first is my daughter’s “gottcha day,” the day she came home from foster care to live with us. In addition, there is my own “aardvark day,” named after the strange word I was told to remember upon awakening from brain surgery to be sure that I still had some (but, as my students will probably tell you, probably not all) of my short-term memory still intact. I thought of this today as our campus pauses to celebrate another day that is central to who we are as a college. It is the 36th anniversary of the martyrdom of four American churchwomen in El Salvador on December 2nd in 1980. One of the women, Sister Dorthy Kazel, was a local Ursuline sister and graduate of Ursuline College, therefore making this day one of great significance here on campus.
Amazed at their stories, I am perhaps most moved by the knowledge that these four women had been advised to leave El Salvador in the months preceding their murders by their religious orders (in the case of the three who were vowed religious) and by our local bishop, as everyone witnessed the political situation in that country fall apart around them. Only months before their own deaths, Archbishop Oscar Romero had been murdered in broad daylight while saying mass. The four women most certainly would have known that their own lives were in grave danger, and yet they felt a commitment to the people they worked with that drew them to stay.
This decision is one that haunts me, as it makes me wonder what I would have done in such a situation. I like to imagine that I would have been part of the underground resistance in Nazi Europe, or would have stood strong as troops approached me on the Edmund Pettus Bridge as I marched for civil rights. However, I realize that I generally make decisions that allow me to live a comfortable life as a professor in suburbia, and that it is very possible that I would have chosen a less honorable route. Indeed, I cringe knowing that, even today, I am often reluctant to choose courses of action that might put the convenience and welfare of my family and myself in danger, if that is the price to pay for working towards a greater good.
While I am resigned to the fact that I will not live a life of courage that will be celebrated thirty six years after I am gone, I also wonder how I can encourage my students and daughter to make difficult choices when they face them. Do any of my readers have ideas on how to teach young people to be idealistic and courageous, to live prophetic lives? In the case of my daughter, there is part of me that does not even want her to learn such courage, because I realize that courage is dangerous, and there is a big part of me that still wants to keep her safe, and here with me. After all, the lifetimes of prophets are generally not terribly long.
In the meantime, I am exposing my daughter to service opportunities and attempting to teach her about a broader world beyond our suburbs in Ohio. What do you suggest, readers, as ways to help your children and students become leaders and voices of inspiration in the world? And how do you, yourself, make difficult choices when the situation calls for such leadership?
. . . Sending my condolences to the families of the victims of the plane crash that killed so many soccer players this past week. . .
. . . Also sending my best wishes to the students and community at Ohio State, just a few hours’ drive from my home, as they recover from the frightening events of this past week. . .
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