Authentic Eagles: Scott Chamberlain on Congruence

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our true selves. Embracing our individuality  can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of being one’s authentic self at BC. We hope that readers are inspired to have conversations and reflections of their own, working towards being more authentic.

Scott Chamberlain, A&S ’15

Over the past three years, Boston College has given me the chance to participate in a multitude of retreats, volunteer opportunities, and leadership positions. Along the way I’ve learned what it means to listen, to discover myself, and most importantly, to be a man for others. These are all important lessons and skills to keep in mind, but I often fall short of incorporating them in my day-to-day life. While there has repeatedly been incongruence between my spiritual life and my personal life, the most glaring instance of hypocrisy was my second semester of sophomore year after returning from Arrupe.

I was lucky enough to meet many people who generously shared their stories with us while we were on Arrupe. One of the most impactful lessons I learned was how moments can simultaneously be overwhelmingly devastating and joyful. One such instance was when we met with two women who ran a school for children with special needs. The school’s funding was going to be cut, so they were taking us to houses in the surrounding village to show us the individuals the cuts would affect. When we knocked on the gate of one of the homes, the door swung open and I looked down to see a small boy with bright eyes and a wide smile grinning up at me. He looked to be about ten years old, but his head only came up to my waist, so I assumed he was kneeling. I waited for him to stand up to lead us across the yard but instead he turned and began dragging himself across the packed earth. I realized then that he had no limbs from the waist down, so he had to get around by pulling himself forward one arm at a time. We followed the boy toward his house, where he scooted through a doorway into his modest home and beckoned for us to follow.

We all squeezed into his kitchen, where he sat on the floor shelling peas while his mother spoke to us. She related that she had never hoped for her son, Juan, to have an education. It was impossible for her to get him to the public school, and even if she could, she was afraid the other children would tease him too much for him to be able to learn. However, as he grew older she realized how smart her son was and what a waste it was for him to stay at home. At this point, Juan excitedly spoke up to tell us how much he wanted to go to school because he couldn’t wait to be a teacher, but it wouldn’t be possible without access to the special needs school.

When we left the house to go back to our vans, one of the two women who had been showing us around began to cry. She then explained that they couldn’t find any funding, but they knew we were American college students so they hoped we could help. As a parting gift, they took out a box of pens and began handing them out, imploring us to send help when we got back to the US. The pens had gaudy striped cloth with loud colors and small, smiling faces glued to the tops that stared up at us. As we piled back into the vans, there wasn’t a dry eye among us. The silence for the next minute was only punctuated by sniffles until I said “It’s great that we all feel for these people, but what does it matter if we’re all just going to go back and get drunk with our friends next weekend?” I didn’t expect to get an answer, and I wasn’t met with one. I resolved then that I wouldn’t continue living my life the way I had before I came on the trip. It would be a disservice to the people who we met, all of whom were braver and more loving than I can ever hope to be.

I couldn’t wait to come home and use what I had learned to “change my space” at BC. However, when I got back I felt uneasy around my friends and had a hard time articulating what the experience had been like, so I gave up trying. Instead of acting on the change that had occurred to me, I molded myself to the surrounding culture. I had spent ten days crying, listening, and learning about the immense struggles of individuals who I can only hope to be half as brave as. Then I came back to a world-class education, told my friends I “had a good time”, and started working on my pong game. It was easier to slip into familiar activities than to be authentic and expose myself by relating what the trip had really meant to me.

When I’m in a small group setting or leading a discussion about God and service, it’s easy to be a good person, even to feel like I’m exceptional. The reason it was difficult for me to translate my spiritual experiences into changes in my personal life is the same reason that I struggled to employ the lessons I’ve learned at BC when I was abroad last semester. I’ve learned that the difficulty in translating experience into change lies in the mundane. When thought-provoking questions and vulnerable settings aren’t being structured for me, it’s difficult to produce genuine conversation. Father Pedro Arrupe said “fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” The first part of that directive, telling us to fall in love, is easy to fulfill. Falling in love, while requiring vulnerability and effort, is ultimately passive. The second half, telling us to stay in love, is the hard part. Staying in love is working to consistently put the other before oneself, and it requires constant effort.

I have kept the Guatemalan pen in my backpack, and whenever I unzip my bag, I see a small plastic face staring innocently up at me. I store it there because I never want to become complacent. Being a man for others doesn’t mean fully expressing myself only when I’m in a space where vulnerability is sanctioned, it means making an effort to create those spaces every day, particularly when it’s awkward and difficult.