Sunday, September 13, 2009

Experience is Everything

This summer I taught swim lessons to an autistic camp. Throughout the summer new kids would be coming in and out, but one girl was always there, Amanda. Amanda was an 11 year old girl with high functioning autism. Before entering the pool she would always have no expression on her face, but I quickly learned that swim was her favorite part of the day. A couple of weeks into swim lessons I decided to grab a pair of goggles and swim under water with her. When I saw Amanda’s face under water it seemed as if a switch was turned on and she lit up. Her eyes were filled with excitement as she swam like a mermaid to touch the bottom of the pool.

From that point on Amanda would beg me for a pair of goggles to borrow, she became my “little mermaid” and I felt as if Amanda and I really connected. I truly believe that swimming became her therapy. The teachers told me that ever since Amanda began to swim her temper tantrums decreased and her reading level increased. On Amanda’s last day of swim lessons, I gave her a pair of goggles (with the little mermaid on them) and Amanda’s face on that day will never leave my memory. Experiences with the autistic camp have changed my life, and I hope my presence has helped transform my students’ lives.

Amanda’s story helps demonstrate Kolvenbach’s meaning of Jesuit tradition. In “The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice”, Kolvenbach discusses the importance of service and faith as a mutual relationship. Kolvenbach states, “Personal involvement is the catalyst for solidarity which then gives rise to intellectual inquiry and moral reflection” (34) and through service a person receives more then hours of volunteer work to put on a résumé, but an experience to live by. These experiences help build the volunteer’s knowledge as a whole, inside and outside the classroom. When Kolvenbach refers to “moral reflection”, it makes me look back on my volunteer experiences and realize that each experience has brought me to think back on my faith and try to understand the situation at large.

Before entering Loyola, I would not have classified myself as a very religious person, but after reading Kolvenbach’s essay in years past, I have learned that faith can come in many forms. For instance, I have faith in the kids I work with; I know they can achieve anything they imagine. My faith demonstrates my connection to service and the promotion of justice. My faith rests in the future, hoping that the kids will continue to be inspired by the volunteers and catch the contagious act of service and apply it to their education. I believe Kolvenbach’s words lay the groundwork to what I believe a Jesuit education demonstrates that “when the heart is touched by direct experience, the mind may be challenged to change” (34).

Kolvenbach’s idea of concepts vs. contact can be seen within the novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Toni Morrison highlights Huck’s maturation by his encounter with Mary Jane “the most grotesque consequences of slavery catapults him into one of his most mature and difficult decisions” (392). This maturation helps demonstrate the importance of experience on transformation. Also Morrison writes about the important role of Jim on Huck’s overall life, as their experience begin to mold Huck into a more mature man. Morrison’s main concern is if all of these lessons will stick with Huck after the novel has ended. Again, according to Kolvenbach “when the heart is touched by direct experience, the mind may be challenged to change” (34) so these experiences should hold an everlasting affect on Huck and Kolvenbach would tell Morrison not to question if Huck will stay changed without Jim.

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