How much for this?

The last thing that I was told by one of the monks at the monastery was, “Do that which will cultivate the most compassion within you.”

These lines have been playing over and over in my head on repeat these past few days as I’ve been working at the elementary school as a literacy tutor for 1-3 graders, volunteering at the library, hosting at French Meadow Bakery and Cafe, and attending events in the community such as French Conversation Group that meets every Saturday at Espresso Royale on Hennepin. These past two weeks were around 60 hours each, and despite an affinity for movement and staying busy, it’s been exhausting, and the stress of paying off college loans and not being able to handle any emergency expenses (i.e. my laptop crashes, motorcycle/bike repairs, etc.) has been constantly on my mind.

Despite the volume of blog posts that I have written concerning the unnecessary and perhaps detrimental weight given to money and financial security, I can’t seem to stop thinking about it. I remember learning in Psych 1 with Mr. Humbert that the circumstances in which we grow up in become our expectations for the conditions in which we live our lives when we’re older. My dad is a lawyer and my mom is a secretary, both very frugal. We grew up upper-middle class. My dad always told me, especially concerning shoes because his father was a shoe salesman, if you’re going to buy something, buy quality so that it’ll last. Still, wise words, Dad, but the money needs to be there to begin with. It’s much easier to buy 6 pairs of cheap shoes as the year goes along than to buy 2 good pairs for the same amount of total money and lifespan.

It’s not just the inability to afford a big purchase such as a new computer or having to pay close attention to what goes into my shopping cart each week. The most frustrating part about not having much for me are the looks given and the way that I get treated from people I seat and serve at French Meadow who clearly do have a lot of money. It doesn’t matter that I may be a good host, can speak a couple of other languages, etc. You’re automatically placed beneath them because of your socioeconomic status.

This is bullshit, I know. There are too many people whom I respect that aren’t millionaires, who are intelligent, great communicators and conversationalists, musically-gifted, great at reading people, making others feel happy and welcomed, unbelievable problem-solvers, motivators, visionaries, and go-getters who could indeed excel at anything they thought worth investing their time into. For some reason, however, there is such a strong desire to prove myself to the people I seat, to obtain a high-paying job, drive a nice car, live in a nice home, have nice things. Is that wrong? Yes, many would say. It’s selfish, many of you might chime in, to want such nice things when so few have them, and to you, I would say, you’re right, but the desire is still there nonetheless.

Alliance Francaise has a job opening for a receptionist, and they’re looking for someone strong in speaking and writing in French and English, someone who is well-organized, etc. and the job pays twice as much as I’m making now working 60 hours per week. It’s no guarantee that I would get the job; in fact, I’m probably grossly overestimating my chances, but I know the executive director of the organization, and I think my odds are good.

The inspiration for this post: Do I apply for the job? A foot-in-the-door to, hopefully, a French-English bilingual position, or should I stick it out with AmeriCorps, hosting at French Meadow, and volunteering in the community?

Today was one of the most difficult days at the elementary school. I work with a 2nd grader with ADHD whose parents refuse to medicate him which makes our tutoring sessions quite challenging. Things were so difficult today that we had to end early, and I had decided at the end to talk with his teacher and tell her that I couldn’t tutor her student anymore, that I don’t have the experience or training to deal with a student with ADHD. Before I could speak to the teacher, however, my student’s little sister came up to me and told me, “Mark really loves you! He talks about you all the time at the house.”

And then the monk’s words from the monastery popped into my head once again: “Do that which will cultivate the most compassion within you.”

Each day, as I’m brooding on how difficult it is to work 60 hours a week, how much I dislike not having my weekends off, how boring shelving books can be, etc., something always happens to turn those thoughts around: I’ll bike past a particularly rundown house and realize how much more difficult things could be if I were to have a family depending on me; A student of mine will open up with me about how her dad beats her mom, and another student’s face will light up everytime I go to his class to fetch him for his 20 minutes a day of reading time, and he’ll go out of his way to say hi to me in the hallways five more times throughout the rest of the day. It’s realizations and events such as these that turn perceived burdens into things to be grateful for, and when one turnaround occurs, everything to be grateful for begins to pour out: The staff at all of the places, the school, restaurant, and library, are all incredibly friendly and down-to-earth people; I’m learning a ton about communicating with people in general by learning to do so with children; my supervisors are all inspiring individuals; I feel blessed to have such loving parents and close friends.

A woman, a mother and a wife, at the school with me told me today that she’s worked with a lot of different people at many different jobs, and some of them will never feel satisfied. “They’re the type who are never grateful for what they have, or can’t see the good in it, at least.”

The most important conclusion I came to at the monastery was to revisit a relationship in my life and work on rebuilding it. I don’t identify with any religion, nor would I call myself particularly spiritual. When I came to this conclusion, however, I had never felt more sure of anything in my entire life. I just knew what I had to do, and a clear voice was telling this to me. As I sit here, typing, I feel annoyed at that voice for having once again returned. Loudly and clearly, it’s telling me what needs to happen.

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