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Post-it note rainbows

Scott Boyle | Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Chances are you’ve looked at yourself in a mirror once or twice in your life. When I was younger, I used a mirror all the time. In grade school, I would check the mirror before I went to school, to see (much to the displeasure of my mom) if I had “drooped” my And-1 basketball shorts enough to look cool. In junior high, I would use it to check to see if my gelled hair had come out just right. But, to be quite honest, I worried less in high school. A quick glance in the mirror was more than enough to confirm that I was indeed wearing long pants and a collared shirt, required dress code at my local, all-male, Jesuit high school.

But as I entered the last years of high school and began my undergraduate years in college, something changed. To me, the mirror became not an innocent check-in, but a reminder that I was different. I no longer rejoiced in my average height, goofy quirks and caring personality, but saw them as flaws.

I remember the time I felt this especially acutely. I was out to eat with my brother and my aunt at a restaurant in my hometown of Cincinnati. While we were waiting for our table, an older lady came up to my brother and said, “You’re beautiful, have you ever thought about being a model?” It sounds strange to recount now and in the moment we were all taken aback. And my brother didn’t quite know how to respond. He was a bit embarrassed, and after he mumbled some words of thanks, she left.

As she sauntered away, I wanted to wave to her and say, “You missed somebody!” Deep down, however, I could not help but wonder, “Was I not handsome? Why didn’t she say something to me?”

I almost feel silly admitting her words (or lack thereof) bothered me, especially with something superficial like looks. But I felt pretty low in that moment. Once again, I couldn’t help but feel I was different, that I was somehow flawed because my looks didn’t match my brother’s. In that situation, my dissatisfaction manifested itself most acutely. I wanted to be different!

Henri Nouwen once wrote, “If we had a firm faith in God’s unconditional love for us, it would no longer be necessary to be always on the lookout for ways of being admired by people, and we would need, even less, to obtain from people by force what God desires to give us so abundantly.” It’s taken me a long time to try to live into this truth.

When I began this year in Campus Ministry, the dents and holes in the walls of my office in 303 CoMo were well-worn reminders of previous intern communities. Admittedly, I am not much of a decorator, so I was at a loss for how I could give new life to the space.

Imagine my surprise when I arrived one day to find the previously empty wall space above my workspace filled with a large Post-it Note rainbow. Emma, Claire and Joe (children of one of the Campus Ministry staff members) had taken it upon themselves to decorate. The piece had all the requisite elements of a rainbow: an arc shape, many different colors, and giant clouds framing it on either side. Something about it was different, however: numerous individually colored smiley faces.

In this moment, I couldn’t help but feel the hand of God at work. After the Great Flood, God used the symbol of a rainbow as a covenant to remind Noah he would be with him and his ancestors for all time. And in this moment, I had my own rainbow, a reminder that no matter how I felt about myself, the face of God was there, always smiling and gazing at me with love.

But it didn’t stop there. As the weeks have rolled by, people have continued to leave little notes, funny comments, or quotes. Nothing gets thrown away. Each Post-it goes on the wall; each finds a home in its own space in and along the rainbow.

John Paul II wrote, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and our failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.” We are sent into the world to discover and proclaim this truth of the heavens and the stars, that we all are models, models fashioned lovingly by the hand of our Father.

So, to Emma, Claire, Joe, Carolyn, Rose, Jessica, Francis, Dan, Jordan, Katie, Renee, William, Luke, Katherine and Mary, thanks for being my models. Thanks for building up my Post-it note rainbow.

Scott Boyle is a graduate of Notre Dame and intern in the Office of Campus Ministry. He can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.