As an undergraduate, I worked as a coach in the Michigan Tech Writing Center. It was pretty much the greatest place on earth I could possibly have worked and I’m relatively certain that I learned as much from working there as I did from every other class I took and experience I had during those four years combined. It was a truly incredible experience, thanks in large part to the most amazing boss and leader I could every have imagined– Sylvia Matthews. She is a quietly brilliant and beautiful woman, inside and out. Her inability to be anything but genuine and sincere was, quite frankly, breathtaking, and I enjoyed every single moment I spent working for her.
My senior year, Sylvia took a couple of us coaches to the Midwestern Writing Center Conference in St. Cloud, MinnesOta, where the theme had something to do with water. I can’t remember exactly what it was, but we put together a poster-style presentation where we discussed what we termed “The Ripple Effect” and shared some of the resources we had developed for working with international students in our center.
The ripple effect was essentially what it sounds like– like you drop a pebble in a pool of water and watch the waves spread out from that central point, making a change, even in yourself, will spread out from you in every direction and change the minds, hearts, and lives of those around you. It was such a beautiful and simple idea and we really made it our mission in the Writing Center that year– to continually effect and be affected by change in others.
When I went to grad school, I moved away from writing and focused instead on infectious disease for 6 years, and interestingly, microogranisms seem to promote change in the same sort of way– primarily horizontally. True, there are some infections that can be transmitted vertically (especially STDs!– gonorrhea? check… chlamydia? check… herpes? check… HIV? check… need I continue?), or from parent to offspring, but the most effectively spread pathogens spread horizontally from person-to-person-to-person… think the common cold, influenza, or norovirus on a cruise ship. (Or even the primary spread of STDs– its horizontal, no matter how you look at it. Ha!!)
And I heard the same sort of idea again when I heard Sister Miriam Therese Winter speak at the CTA conference a couple weeks ago. She talked about ideas moving most effectively through the world in a spiraling pattern… not so much from the top down or the bottom up, but from person to person to person from the center out in a spiral pattern.
Recurring life theme? I think so.
Sr. Miriam’s point was so beautiful. She talked about how the divine, the Holy Spirit, the good, whatever you want to call it, is inside everything and everything is simultaneously inside the divine. Those good things inside you can spiral outward to others, and the good things you are part of can simultaneously spiral back in to you. Lovely, right?
It’s especially lovely when I think about how this has happened in so many ways throughout my own life.
Let’s start with the Writing Center, shall we?
I met my friend Ming in the Writing Center. He was a brilliant mechanical engineer working toward his PhD… yet we spent most of our time talking about vegetables. Vegetables! Because he knew all the English words for building materials and other fancy technical terms, but he couldn’t match the produce he was seeing in the grocery store to the names on the signs above and therefore, couldn’t tell how much something cost… which was troublesome for a grad student on a budget. So I brought in pictures of vegetables and we talked about their names, among other things. It was so much fun! He told people I saved him from starving to death (ha…), but he taught me a whole lot more than that. Ming became my friend and accented English stopped bothering me in the slightest. In addition, I dropped my prejudice against Asian accents, which was important for me… I had a preconceived notion that Asian accents were harder to understand than European accents. How wrong I was! (Finnish was definitely the toughest for me, by far.) And that, for me anyway, is true to this day. Ming and I were both changed. And I never miss the opportunity to work on understanding a new and exciting accent, foreign or otherwise. (I live in Wiscahnsin now, dontchaknow!)
Likewise, things changed me and I like to think that I changed things in grad school. No, I didn’t spread STDs (to any humans, anyway), but I did try to spread my thoughts about the importance of studying STDs for the sake of women’s health. I remember sitting on the end of a dock on Clear Lake in Tomahawk one summer day with my aunt-in-law whom I barely knew at the time– we were chatting and catching some rays when she asked me about my work. I talked (at length, of course) about gonococcal and chlamydial coinfection and my model and what it meant and blah, blah, blah and infertility blah… when she stopped me and said, “But if someone had gonorrhea and chlamydia maybe they shouldn’t be allowed to have kids– what kind of mother would they be?” Or something along those lines… I explained that it doesn’t seem quite right for a responsible woman ready to start a family to have to continue suffering from an unfortunate mistake made at the age of 16. Everyone makes mistakes, after all. She liked my point, and I felt really good about making it.
And most recently, Sr. Miriam reminded me to keep it up– to keep dropping pebbles in the pond, to infect infect infect, and to send my love spiraling outward at every opportunity.
(Don’t worry– I left the STDs behind in Maryland…)