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I lead a weekly service site to Metro Community College for adult GED tutoring. The students there are all sixteen or older, mostly high school drop-outs looking for an opportunity for a better job once they have their GED. A few weeks ago, I was helping a girl who would be in her senior year of high school now. We were working on adding and subtracting mixed fractions, something the GED instructor had told me this particular student was having difficulty with. We started in with the lesson and I made sure that she wrote out every step of the problem, then she said something that took me by surprise.

“Nobody’s ever made me work for this before.”


“Nobody else makes me try. My sister has tried to teach me fractions before, but she just gets frustrated and tells me the answer. In high school I would make sure I sat by my smart friend so I could copy her answers, and my teachers never took time to go over it with me, either.”

“Well… I’m glad I can help you out,” and we continued with our lesson

Nobody’s ever made me work for this before. What was so amazing about what I was doing? I just made sure that she understood the problem and how it worked, but apparently this is more than she had been given before. Other people had tried to help her out, but had given up once it started getting difficult. A little time and patience is all it took.

Behold the power of presence. What difference can we make if we do something with our entire person? And how difficult is this in our culture? With texting and Facebook, our personal interactions are getting less and less personal. On top of that, we as a society are incredibly self-absorbed. We always seem to try and figure out “what’s in it for me rather than what’s in me for it” (Leo Rock, SJ). I think we can do better than that. Indeed, if we want anything to change, we have to do better than that.

“When I give, I give myself”

-Walt Whitman

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