Knowing When We Are

“Sonny, when I was your age, nobody ever…” How many of us have heard these words, conveyed to us by a wizened member of the older generation? And how many of us, on the receiving end of advice like this, have thought in reply, “you were never my age.”

With every turning of another page on our life’s calendar, we build within our memory a picture of what life is really all about, much of it based on what made sense to us when we were young. And with increasing longevity, life in the present moment may look less wholesome and more uncertain than our recollections of what life was like “when we were their age.”

In preparing for the opening of school this year I found myself pondering the most important questions we will be putting to our students in the months that lie ahead. What does it mean to be human? Where are we in the global community? Who am I, and who are these other people with whom I have to share this world? While these questions may not stand out in the published curriculum of the math, English, and science courses we offer, they will, nonetheless surface in planned and spontaneous moments during classes and in the private reflections of our students.

A question that we don’t usually put in so many words is, When are we? It was the subject of my Convocation address and a point of contemplation at our first faculty meeting. I know that asking when are we sounds awkward when put this way. But knowing the when of our reality may be as important, if not more important, than any of the other big questions we may ever ask ourselves.

In fact, two very pointed when are we questions hold the key to understanding how we may live and work with the young people with whom God has blessed us:

· When are we in the longer context of our entire life span? Students at Ascension, falling somewhere between 11 and 18 years of age, live each of their days sometime between childhood’s bliss and adulthood’s responsibilities. So many of their values, their priorities, their judgments of right and wrong and their decisions about what is important in life will take shape during these formative years.

It is good and helpful for us who live and work with teenagers to try to recall what we were like when we were their age. How did we feel about ourselves? What did we look like? Who were our friends? Whom did we admire? What did we fear? What did we do for fun? While we can never completely understand what younger people are experiencing now—their adolescent years being so different than when we were teens—we have a better chance of knowing and guiding them when we can remember our youth while listening to them and empathizing with them as they try to make sense of these new and challenging times.

· When are we in history? As I’ve followed the national and international news this summer and shaken my head at one horrific report after another, it made me wonder what kind of future our young people are facing. How can they not feel frightened by the prospects of global terror, viral epidemics, drought and unemployment? Recalling what the future looked like when I was in high school--with Vietnam, political assassinations, cities ignited by racial and anti-war violence, all played out under the threat of nuclear annihilation—reminds me that ominous futures are not unique or new. And yet here we are, more than forty years later, enjoying so much prosperity in spite of the crises threatening the planet.

Reflecting on the when of our lives is more than a nostalgic diversion into a never land we will not see again. It helps us gain a broader and more realistic perspective about both who we are, who really matters to us, and what values and priorities are most important to us in the only real time any of us has to live: the present.

As Ascension Academy moves boldly and confidently into tomorrow, we count it a joy and a sacred calling to be able to help young people discover and appreciate when they are. We look forward to partnering with all of our parents in helping this next generation ask and try to answer the meaningful questions they are facing as we prepare them to live long and well in the days that lie ahead.