By Luke Reynolds '03
Exactly 22 years ago I earned the first job of my life: I would deliver 18 newspapers to our neighbors on Alcott Drive and nearby Brewster Road in Windsor, Connecticut for the now-defunct Journal Inquirer. I was ten years old. I was excited. After all, I’d be making my very own money for the first time, able to ride my bike to the local gas station and purchase obscene amounts of candy without asking my mom for money. In the life of a 10-year-old, this is huge.
In the life of a 32-year-old? Not so huge.
Three weeks ago, I got a phone call from the corner store near the home we currently rent in York, England. Two-and-a-half years earlier, when we gave away all our possessions, left our jobs, switched roles, and relocated across the Atlantic Ocean (how’s that for subtle, slow change?), I’d seen a sign in the window: BOYS AND GIRLS NEEDED FOR PAPER ROUTES. We were newly expatriated, broke, confused, and I saw the need for a little money to help the cause. I figured I could deliver the newspapers before Tyler woke in the mornings.
The thing is, the corner store never called back. Until two-and-a-half years later.
And so, on my first day of being a 32-year-old paperboy-man-dad-writer-teacher, I loaded 30 newspapers into a brightly reflective yellow bag on which the words THE DAILY TELEGRAPH were splayed.
I walked the route that first morning with a sense of hope, even fun. And then, pushing the crosswalk button after I’d finished, I saw a teenager finishing her route too. She even had a matching reflective yellow bag like I did!
Cool! Thinking we’d have that instant job-sharing connection, I smiled wide and tossed a hearty, “Morning!” her way. She smirked first, then looked towards the ground in utter disbelief. I realized then what I must have looked like to her: a guy in his thirties with a stubbly beard working as a . . . newspaper carrier?
There are moments when all of our lofty goals and assertions turn back towards us and become our accusers. Moments, even, when our dreams turn to face us, lift their fingers, and say, You really thought so?
But then something amazing happened. It snowed. It snowed massively, so that a week into my new paper-route job, I had to drag a cart with triple-sized Saturday morning papers from door to door amidst freezing temperatures. Was I grumpy? Yes. Was I wondering what it was all for? Yes.
Until I looked back along the sidewalk and my wife and my son were walking towards me. I mean my wife and my son. There they were, holding hands, walking towards the third door of the route, 27 papers to go.
My 4-year-old boy grabbed that metal cart alongside my own hand, and my wife grabbed the other side. “We’ll do it together today,” Jen told me, with a look in her eyes that blew every notion of failure to smithereens. That Saturday, we did the paper route as a family. We dragged that cart through the ice and the snow of the roads, yes, but also through the ice and the snow of my own heart.
Perfect in Weakness
Brené Brown writes in Daring Greatly that when shame strikes we need to say in reply: “This hurts. This is disappointing, maybe even devastating. But success and recognition and approval are not the values that drive me. My value is courage and I was just courageous. You can move on, shame.” God says in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness.” And my 4-year old boy says, “We can do it, Daddy! Come on!”
The beauty of all of these words is that they are not results-driven. They’re not about the end product of success or failure.They are about the singular decision to get up and keep going.
Three years ago, I used to wake up and put on an ironed shirt and tie, ironed trousers, and grab a leather satchel filled with student essays and notes for important upcoming meetings. I used to have a binder with Ph.D. coursework for a program at Boston College.
Today, this morning, I did a paper route. I passed by teenagers who aren’t much different than the 10-year-old boy who still sometimes makes his voice known inside of me. The trajectory of this character arc could, possibly, be seen as a marked failure. If this life were the stock market? Forget about it.
That Which Endures
But when I examine what this experience has been about—what it’s taught me and my wife and our son—there’s no way I would trade these last two and a half years for anything. Because, see, there are many other moments like that snowy Saturday morning. There are so many other moments when everything seemed lost or impossible, and then Hope would break through and prove that despair and criticism and fear have no permanent place. They’re squatters.
With six months to go on this crazy England journey, I think it’s possible to characterize one of the biggest lessons I have been learning in a single line: what matters more than anything else is the way we embody love towards one another. It’s more important than all our credentials, all our achievements, and all our significance.
Luke Reynolds has taught in public schools in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and at the college level. He, his wife, Jennifer (Reynolds) ’04, and son, Tyler, live in York, England. This essay originally appeared in his blog, Intersections: One Writer’s Journey through Parenting, Living Abroad, Faith, Publishing and Social Justice.
As a long-time middle school teacher, Luke constantly found himself struggling with teens’ perceptions of what society tells them they “must do” in order to have a successful life. Break These Rules, forthcoming from Chicago Review Press in fall 2013, is his anthology of essays by young-adult (YA) authors.
Reynolds has co-edited Burned In: Fueling the Fire to Teach (Teachers College Press, 2011) and, with his wife Jennifer Reynolds ’04, Dedicated to the People of Darfur: Writings on Fear, Risk, and Hope (Rutgers University Press, 2009).
He is the author of A Call to Creativity: Writing, Reading, and Growing with Students in an Age of Standardization (Teachers College Press, January 2012); Keep Calm and Query On: Notes on Writing (and Living) with Hope (Divertir Publishing, January 2012); and A New Man: Reclaiming Authentic Masculinity from a Culture of Pornography (Stonegarden Publishing, 2007).