This is a guest post by Kelly Bartusiak, a Chicago native currently teaching Theology and running a Service program for highschoolers in Houston, TX. She enjoys learning about new Saints, singing in choirs, being near lakes, and learning about different kinds of bourbon.
Every Houstonian knows, without a doubt, that when you’re trying to exit 610 to 59 South, there will inevitably be a string of cars that use the other lanes to speed up to the front of the line and cut in without waiting, causing more traffic.Five years ago I moved to Houston without knowing anything about the city. I still don’t consider myself 100% a Houstonian…except when it comes to driving. Man oh man, have I seen some pretty heated honking matches at this exit! And, I will admit, I have had my fair share of moments laying on my horn because I waited 20 extra minutes for someone else to cut in line. I am not proud of these moments, but Houston has gotten me a little frustrated in the car. In addition to honking at those cutting the line, I have noticed that Houston drivers just honk a lot in general. I have had many moments where I would find myself driving the speed limit only to be honked at for moving too slow. I have been stared at by people swerving past me because I waited too long to turn left. A car hit my bumper and sped away because I decided not to wiz through the intersection half way through a yellow light. Whenever this would happen, whether I made a mistake on the road or not, I found myself feeling really sad and hurt by the fact that someone felt the need to honk at my car, wiz past, and then stare me down as if I had committed some outrageous crime on the road. I felt myself actually becoming saddened and very self-conscious each time this happened. At first, I thought ‘oh this is silly. I should not be this emotionally taxed by someone honking a horn.’ As I reflected on it, though, these small moments seemed to speak volumes about how we as people treat each other. As a teacher for a Social Justice class at a Catholic high school, I am often asked about ways we can serve others and how we can be of justice in the world. Often, my students wonder if their small actions will mean anything in a world full of such big problems. Does their work make a difference? Should they even bother? These questions are why we open class each year with the words of Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ. He speaks to educators about what it means to cultivate a culture in schools of being people for and with others. He says, “The struggle for justice will never end. Our efforts will never be fully successful in this life. This does not mean that such efforts are worthless.” Fr. Arrupe reminds us, all of us, that although the problems of the world are many and sometimes daunting, our efforts, no matter how small, are never worthless. If even the smallest efforts for justice can be fruitful, then perhaps justice could begin in the smallest place of all…our hearts. I think about those times in which I have been honked at on the road or stared down by other drivers and I wonder what would happen to the way we interact if we had a sense of justice in our hearts at all times. Media lately has latched on to the word ‘love’ for a myriad of reasons, both social and political. From where I’m sitting, this overuse of the word love has confused and maybe even lessened its meaning. In my classes, I explain how we love as Catholics. First, we discuss the unconditional love of the Father and then we discuss the definition of love as ‘willing the good for the other.’ What would that look like on the highway? It would look like drivers choosing not to lay on the horn at the sign of a simple backup or missing the opportunity to turn. This would look like drivers not deliberately taking time to stare you down and make others feel weak out on the road. During the rest of one’s day, this looks like praying for those who suffer, restraining oneself from entering a Facebook argument, offering to help someone with a task that you definitely do not want to do. These small changes of heart, attempting to will the good for the others around you in every moment can, over time, have a big impact. If we change our outlook, constantly will only what is good and holy for others, then we truly discover what it means to love. And when we figure out what it truly means to love, we will begin to love in ways that allow us to work for real justice. When we allow our heart to open, we can see the needs of others in a different light. We no longer think of what we need or how quickly we need to drive to our destination. We recognize the needs of the other and what we must do in order to fully will the good for them. Justice for the everyday person does not need to include grand gestures or lots of money and time. Doing justice everyday means working to change our hearts and the hearts of others to recognize the people around us as more, to give our hearts fully to others rather than keeping them locked up for ourselves. Justice starts in the heart.