4 min. read — March 24, 2022
As a student at St. Anselm's, I always found myself in the middle of the pack. I got good, but not great grades and even struggled in a few classes. I was invariably failing Latin during the first month or so and had to struggle the rest of the year to bring my grade back up to something respectable. And Dr. Wood can tell you how I almost never managed to turn a physics lab in on time. I was a triple sport athlete, but not a top performer most of the time. It was only in my senior year that I finally managed to make the top-5 for the cross country team and the only matches I ever won in wrestling were exhibition matches. I did manage to win races in track, and even held a School record for many years, but that was in the 110m hurdles and I was literally the only dedicated hurdler in the entire league. Everyone else in these races was a sprinter, usually much faster than me, who was slowed down enough by their clumsy way of getting over the hurdles that I could beat them over the course of the whole race. All of this taught me a great deal of humility and a decent work ethic.
When I got to college, however, I found myself extremely well prepared for the academic side of college life and I excelled in all my classes. Indeed, one might even say I did too well in some of them. During my freshman year, I maintained a curve-breaking high grade in introductory Chemistry while falling asleep in roughly half of the classes (in my defense, it was an 8am class). As much as I had struggled with Ms. Lewis's 11th grade Chemistry class here, I had learned the basics of Chemistry well enough that even two years later, I could coast on what she had taught me. During my sophomore year, a similar thing happened with my introductory Physics course. Dr. Wood's AP Physics course had taught me so much that I could play interpreter for my classmates when the professors' lectures or lab instructions were particularly obscure to them. The only sport I continued in college was cross country, and I was decidedly a back-of-the-pack runner, but running and other sports were rapidly becoming a social activity for me in which performance wasn't really the point; it was the time spent with my friends that mattered. As a result, I tended to discount those experiences when it came to evaluating my own abilities and paid attention only to what was going on in the classroom, where I was doing so well that I forgot some important lessons that I learned while at St. Anselm's.
Without the challenge that the courses and teachers here had provided, I began to take my scholastic achievements for granted and took on more and more classes without really considering my limits. By the time I reached my senior year, this all caught up with me and the only reason I didn't fail an independent study I'd signed up for was because the professor took pity on me and gave me an Incomplete that allowed me a few extra weeks to finish everything up. It caught up with me again in graduate school when I didn't take my first pass at the comprehensive examinations seriously and failed the first time, not because the material was beyond me, but because I simply didn't try on some of the problems, figuring I'd get them next time. In the end, it wasn't until my third set of comprehensives (and at a totally different school after the first one kicked me out for failing twice) that I finally passed that particular hurdle.
Limits: we all have them and it is important to recognize that. This School, with all its myriad challenges, pushes us to find our limits and stretch them as much as possible. Our limits, after all, are a moving target: what is beyond our grasp at one time, may be within it after a bit of preparatory work. However, our ability to stretch our limits doesn't mean they aren't there. Some things are simply beyond our current abilities or available time. My time as a student at St. Anselm's had taught me these things, but in a less challenging environment, I'd neglected those lessons and paid the price. Now that I'm back here as a teacher and monk, I find that I'm relearning those lessons I first learned some 25 years or so ago.