Starting Point
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Issue Date:  February 24, 2006

Starting Point


By 11 p.m., I could not read anymore. I decided to go to our common bathroom, brush my teeth and go to bed. A member of my community, returning from the kitchen, spoke to me in the dimly lit hallway. “You missed the party,” he said.

There had been a campus-wide party that evening, a Mass, followed by a social hour and then a nice dinner.

I did not have the energy for the gathering. So I had grabbed a quick bite and came home to put some of my notes together and do some reading. I had a fine time by myself.

When my Jesuit brother made his passing comment, the first response that came to my mind was: “I did not go to the party but I did not miss it.”

“Oh,” he said, and went on to his room. I went into the bathroom and I giggled. I was learning to speak directly, briefly and honestly.

I am an only child and for many years my closest friends were my books and various fighting figures: cowboys, soldiers and superheroes. I went to school and teased and played with my friends. But when it came to serious conversation, I had little of that.

In religious life, I was too busy saving other people to even know what was going on inside me. As an educated black man, I was caught between many cultures; I taught myself to survive and please others in many different arenas. I would spend many hours reading, thinking, asking for feedback, and trying out various ways of presenting myself to find out what I felt and what I thought.

Finally I realized that, if I wanted to lead a well-balanced life, I was going to have to learn how to share my thinking and feelings briefly, clearly and honestly.

I finished brushing my teeth, went back to my room, and went to bed, smiling. Finally I was learning how to speak.

Fr. Joseph McGowan is a member of the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus.

National Catholic Reporter, February 24, 2006

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