Here at the University of Denver, we are literally hours away from the influx of incoming first-years. Indeed most of the new international students have already arrived and are undergoing orientation. Some other groupings of students are also here: athletes, orientation leaders, etc. It's getting busy! Those folks in Student Life who bear the most responsibility for orientation and residence life are madly scrambling to have things ready. Many emails are answered with an "away message" advising the sender NOT to expect a reply until sometime next week. While folks are (for the most part) maintaining good spirits, every so often I'll pick up a note of stress and worry. And that's to be expected, given the nature of the time.
The incoming students, too, are often stressed. They're out of their familiar surroundings. With the international students, the language most often spoken around them isn't their "mother tongue". Finding things on campus isn't always straightforward; I'm often giving directions or accompanying people to this office or that. Anxiety about getting desired classes, about "clicking" with a roommate. Stressful times.
And . . . the economy is tough. Political discourse is rough and inflammatory. Hurricans and earthquakes have wrought real damage in people's lives and work-places. We're coming up on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Wounds will be re-opened; anger and fear may rise.
It is so easy, at times like these, to hunker down-to cover our heads until the storm blows over, or to distract ourselves to avoid having to deal with the difficult times. Often we feel at a lost to help, so we avoid trying.
In that regard, I was struck the other day by a quotation from the Sufi poet Jelalludin Rumi's "The Diwan of Shams of Tabriz"
Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder.
Help someone's soul heal.
Walk out of your house like a shepherd.
What struck me was that there were three images provided for how to help -- and the help suggested wouldn't necessarily work for every situation. Someone drowning doesn't need a lamp; someone in a pit doesn't need a lifeboat. I often find myself thinking that I have one primarily "helping mechanism" and, if that doesn't fit the situation, then I'm somehow left helpless.
Rumi challenges me to think more broadly. I'll look to fill my tool-box with many more ways to help.