I made a grave error in judgment during my senior year at Seattle University. Come to think of it, I made a great many errors in judgment that year, as in the preceding years and those that have followed. The one that occurs to me now, though, was the sense I had that my efforts to be of assistance, to shape campus and world, to serve had been in vain, if only for one silly reason.
Sitting with Fr. Mike, who excelled both at letting me speak my piece and calling me to the carpet on my bull, I explained - carefully and with great philosophical percision - how I clearly was no good at serving others because I had never been in a committed romantic relationship. It is only now, some three years on, that the full foolishness and, even greater, irony of that moment have come home to roost. It's high time to recant, albeit with a few caveats.
The argument was deceivingly simple. If I was to claim that my defining characteristic was being of service to others, then it seemed clear this was a talent I had not sufficiently developed, seeing as I was single. Romantic relationships, I argued, were the ultimate test not only of one's willingness to serve, but also of one's ability to do so, as though college girls checked potential suitors giving prowess before electing to date them. That I was single proved that, for all the evidence to the contrary, I was still deficient as a servant and the girls around me knew this failing. In the often confusing recesses of my mind, I had somehow linked service, romance, and amateur baseball, coming to the conclusion that I hadn't gotten the call up to the "big leagues" of romance because I just wasn't talented enough. Oh, to be a young know-it-all college kid again!
Fr. Mike, bless his heart, did his best to dissuade me of this obvious fallacy. "You know you're being ridiculous, right?" is a good approximation of his words. They didn't sway me then, but there doing a number on me now.
Like all good fictions, my misguided belief was modeled on truth. Healthy relationships - romantic or otherwise - are excellent models of service to others. They mirror the compassion, the effort, the careful intentions and attentions that are required when one takes up the cause of social justice. That service and romance mirror each other does not in any way stratify them or construct some kind of hierarchy, though. Neither one is practice for the other.
Three years have passed, and this defining trait of mine has carried me from Seattle to Los Angeles, and from Los Angeles to Ramallah, and from Ramallah to who knows wear. Along the way, my desire for romance has not waned, nor do I expect to shed it anytime soon. What I have noticed, though, is just how difficult it is to be of authentic service. Difficulties, I imagine, that are also mirrored in relationships. It takes a lot of time, considerable effort, and not a negligible risk to serve. I didn't make it this far without taking on all these things and I am just as sure that they will be part of my mission "to save (at least) a small part of the world" in the future. No way this life could be misconstrued as AAA-ball!
The truth of things is that I was a capable servant then and I'm even better now. I was a sufficiently good catch, too, and I don't think that has changed either.