By the third day of orientation, my roommates and I were dreading yet another lecture on things we already know. Two more hours in the auditorium with a guest speaker was not exactly high on our list. But pretty much from the moment that Dr. Maura Cullen opened her mouth and began to speak, I was captivated. This was a woman who lives life. This was a woman who loves life. This was a woman who shares her life with others.
Her whole lecture, or presentation, if you will, was fascinating to me- simply fascinating. The way she was so comfortable up on that stage talking with this group of college freshman. She had wit, she had charm, she had grace. She had these things all while talking about some difficult topics- topics about making people feel inferior because they are different from us.
“Noticing. Noticing is not the problem. It’s what we do once we notice.” -Dr. Maura Cullen
I couldn’t help but sit there in amazement. This woman came and spoke to us about something that, really, we all already know about. And yet, she made it into something new. She caught our attention so that we didn’t just have to listen, but wanted to. She spoke to us in a way that lit a fire inside of us- that inspired us to do the right thing. As she said, “Simply knowing the right thing to do is not enough. We must stand up and do it. And that takes a lot of courage.” Too often we let things slide because we think that someone else will step up and do the right thing for us, allowing us to ease our minds with the knowledge that “we would have done it if someone else hadn’t stepped up.” But all it takes is one person. Someone has to be that person. It might as well be you.
As she talked about building a community of care and respect, one where we notice each others’ differences but accept and appreciate them in an appropriate, healthy way, I realized that she explained it better than I ever could. And that as an administrator of this blog, it was my duty to pass on the insight and wisdom that she passed on to me. Unfortunately, me telling you all of this is different that you experiencing Dr. Cullen herself, but stories, lore, are powerful things, and maybe, just maybe, my words will touch someone’s life, inspire them.
One of the points in Dr. Cullen’s lecture that really stood out to me were angels. She said, “Everybody here is somebody’s angel. Maybe somebody in this room. Maybe they don’t even know it yet.” You have the power to be an incredible force of good in someone’s life. A light in their darkness. And that is not something to take lightly. That is one of the most beautiful gifts we each have been given: the ability to touch someone’s life by our presence and our love.
They say you should be kind to everyone you meet because you don’t know what kind of cross each person is bearing, and I believe that is absolutely true. One smile, a kind word can brighten someone’s day or turn their whole life around. And in that moment, you are an angel here on earth.
Regardless of your personal opinion of Les Misérables as a novel or a musical, it certainly tells the story of such angels. The Bishop of Digne becomes Jean Valjean’s angel when he gives him the precious silver candlesticks so that he could build a better life instead of turning him in for stealing all of his silver, thereby sending him back to prison. In that one moment of mercy, the Bishop altered the rest of Valjean’s life, converting him to a force of good. To a man who would later become an angel to Fantine, Cosette, and Marius.
I don’t believe that this is a stretch. We are angels in this way too. But I do believe we are so unknowingly. So often, we don’t realize what we mean to other people. How we light up their worlds. And this is why I believe it is of the utmost importance that we treat everyone we come across with kindness, compassion, respect, and mercy. Because you never know when you could be the one to save them from the cruelties of the world, hopelessness, despair, themselves.
Take some time to think about the angels in your lives. And never ever take them for granted. They are most certainly a gift from God.