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Six Things I Learned From Young People

010612 Charles Allen, S.J.

The showman in Father Charles Allen, Assistant to the President of Fairfield University, came out early in his talk to Westport Sunrise Rotary on Friday, one that entertained his audience and left a message.

He began by saying he has been aware of “Rotary’s good works around the world” for many years.

Father Allen is a favorite of early mass goers. He “loves the 7:00 a.m. mass,” he said, “because it lets him start his afternoon nap at ten in the morning.” Not a chance, for this whirlwind who’s spent much of his adult life living and working with college students, first at his alma mater, Boston College, now at Fairfield.

Allen has lived in dorms for over 35 years, counseled students, and learned from them. He offered the club six lessons.

First, “know thyself.” Kids have to get inside themselves, to “find their calling in life.” And that is a good lesson for every one of us, no matter what stage of life we’re in.

Second, “Think before you act. Look before you leap” He suggested that many college kids act before they ask “is the risk worthwhile?”

“Always have hope” was the third. Here he offered two stories. In counseling one young student, he asked what he wanted to be. The student shot back “a professional football player.” “If you get injured, what’s your fallback?” “Being a basketball player.” That, Allen said, is hope.

On a more serious note, he cited Michelangelo. Despite completing two of his most famous sculptures before he was 30, he never stopped creating and began three other famous pieces after he turned 80.

Number four was “even if you lose, do it with dignity.” He cited a poor athlete at a school that required every student to participate in sports. The boy chose cross country at a time when the school’s football and cross country coaches were developing a program that would help both.

On a particular afternoon both teams competed. The coaches had decided to time the cross country meet so the fastest runners would finish on the track at the 50 yard line during half time. And so it went. Just as half time began the first runners finished.

But Father Allen’s student was no where to be seen. He finally came in during the third quarter. Dead last. But he finished with arms thrown aloft, like the winner of an Olympic marathon. He may have lost, but he did it with dignity.

“In the end, love triumphs” was number five – his most endearing story. A high school hockey star with the skills to play in the National Hockey League was checked hard into the boards in one of his last games. Hard enough that he suffered an injury so severe he required a halo to keep his spine aligned.

He cried often, asking “why is God doing this to me?”

At his wedding, some years later, at which Father Allen was guest, the groom offered a toast. He said during his freshman year in college he met his future bride and the love of his life. He soon realized “that’s why God did this to me.”

His last lesson – and, Allen said, maybe the most important – “if you want to stay young, stay loud and keep moving.” While too often college students combine gettin loud with getting. Not necessary, he opined.

He said one year he lived on a floor with the freshman football team. They surely kept moving, and loud they were. “When they breathe, the building shakes,” and they never stopped moving.

But the real meaning of being loud, he said, is in shouting “Hallelujah.” “Nowhere in Scripture does it say to just say Hallelujah. Every once in a while, just shout it out.”

After his talk club president Eric Zielinski presented Father Allen with a book about the King James Bible. This occasioned the comment “never say nothing good comes out of a committee. The Bible was written by a committee and it is the book that shaped our language.”

Photo by Hal Levy

Roy Fuchs