There was a college student observing in one of my preschool music classrooms today, and as I watched her, dark-haired and nervous, I saw myself so many years before. I was once a freshman education major, sent into classrooms to see if it was an environment in which I wanted to work for the rest-of-my-life, and I remember that it was an overwhelming experience and a lot to take in. As I moved through the lesson this morning, I saw this college student watching the reactions of the kids to the material I was presenting, watching me make small adjustments to the classroom management needs before me, seeing me help one fidgety boy settle, one shy girl sing. At the end of class, I spoke with her a bit and discovered we had the same alma mater, a big state university in our town, and I offered to make myself available to her in case she had any projects with which I might be helpful, any questions she ever wanted to ask. The girl was so grateful, and I remembered well the feeling that comes after you’re plunged deep into something totally new, and someone extends a hand. It can feel like a stepping-stone in the water, that very first connection made by a person who’s walked a road a bit before you.
Later in the day, I was on a call with a friend of a friend, an aspiring writer with contacts in the publishing industry, who was willing to share what she had learned so far about that world. She took time out of her busy day to speak encouragement and practical help to me, a writer a couple of steps behind. Her generosity and grace made me remember the plan of God, a parent with billions of children who calls on us to love one another as brothers and sisters. She does this beautifully and sincerely.
Though we hear them most frequently in reference to the colleges we attend, the words ‘alma mater’ are directly translated as ‘nourishing mother’. Today, I feel the weight, responsibility, and privilege of what it means to nourish those who are coming behind me, and to be nourished by those a bit ahead. This intergenerational connectivity has much less to do with age and much more to do with experience. Are we willing to share what we’ve learned along the way? Do we look back as much as we look ahead? Imagine the world we could make if each person did.
Early this morning, I heard from some of my college friends in a rare group text, and it brought me back to the days when we, quite literally, made beautiful music together in an a cappella singing group. Our lives have changed so much since those days, when we rehearsed every Monday and Wednesday afternoon, when we ate stuffed pizza in a dive bar after practice, when we sang on the streets of Germany and Czechoslovakia on a choir trip. Since those days, there have been marriages and divorces, advanced degrees, a whole gaggle of kids, jobs, homes, worries, victories, ministries, vocations, and ideologies. We’re not the same, any of us, and yet there is something of our alma mater that stays with us, that informs who we are, that nourishes us still.
I also heard from a friend of the family who is headed on pilgrimage and who offered to take my prayers along with her. I’ve known this young woman since she was a teenager, so you could say that I am in a position to extend my hand to her, but she’s always been a nourisher for our family, young as she is. My late mother loved her dearly, and as she travels across the world to be in the presence of Mary and her Son, I know my Mom will be there, too, guiding and helping her along the way. After all, that’s what mothers do, don’t we? We nourish. We extend hands and help each other to move forward, mother to daughter, sister to sister, one stepping stone at a time.