A colleague came into my office today and talked a little about faith. I work for a private school that is affiliated with a faith tradition. In fact, I’ve worked most of my life in small, faith-based private schools that are inclusive.
I want to note that while this kind of work environment is very rewarding, these schools also have budget goals that need to be met. I’ve been working in the philanthropy field for over two decades. I’ve always been inspired by learning about people’s life stories, and it is an honor to become acquainted and sometimes even friends with donors. But deadlines abound for most of the year. By meeting financial goals, I help the school, students, parents, and colleagues.
So a rare, short conversation about faith with a work teammate on a quiet summer day is a nice change of pace.
My colleague asked if I consider faith a big part of my life. “Absolutely,” I said. “Why,” he asked. I smiled and said there are many reasons and I look forward to talking about them in the years ahead. He smiled as well and said, “Fair enough.”
After he left, that brief interchange got me thinking about faith, fate, and my friend Gail.
I met Gail in one of the schools I worked in as a German teacher. I’ve been lucky that in addition to having full-time jobs as a fundraiser, I’ve also been allowed to teach German at my workplaces a few hours a week for about 15 years. I’m able to get to know students and families on a different surface, so to speak. It also helps me keep a promise I made to my grandfather that I would always keep our family’s heritage language part of my life and try to pass it onto others.
Gail is one of those people in life to whom people gravitate. She is smart, optimistic, fun. She gets things done. I always wanted to get to know her better, but at the same time I had a funny feeling I already knew her.
Then one day our six degrees of separation became two, possibly fewer.
Gail showed me a document written in old German script and asked if I would translate it for her. I immediately recognized it was a marriage certificate from 1903. Then I read further and the name Herzing appeared. “That’s funny, Gail,” I said. “That’s my mother’s maiden name.” Then my eyes scrolled down the piece of paper a little more and widened considerably. “Hold on, Gail. Johann Herzing resided in Pegnitz [in Bavaria]. That’s where my family comes from.”
We looked at and hugged each other. “We’re cousins.”
And have been all our lives but didn’t know it. Or maybe on some level we did even before my husband and I completed a thorough translation of Gail’s document.
Gail and I didn’t grow up together, and for much of our lives we lived in different cities and only met when I began working in a Waldorf School in my 30s. Now, though, Gail is part of my family and related to my daughter and by marriage to my husband who also taught Gail’s son.
So yes, if readers of this blog don’t know already, I’m a big believer in fate and faith. I’ll never have either of those weighty topics figured out, but seeing signs of each is one of the reasons I get up every day!