The Empty Locker

This week's reflection is written by
Mr. Joseph McDaniel, OSFS, seminarian.

As our senior high school students prepare for their upcoming graduation, their thoughts and memories may begin to turn to the many spaces which defined their experience of high school: The classrooms where they aced tests, debated with teachers, and occasionally took a discreet afternoon nap. The sports fields where they forged bonds with teammates, battled through the sting of injury and defeat, and tasted the savor of both sweat and success. The lunch rooms where they shared their stories with each other, while racing to inhale pizza and fries before the start of afternoon classes.

There is one space to which they returned constantly, day after day, but which will be more promptly forgotten: their personal locker. To this locker they made pilgrimage with strict observance at the changing of the hours, and to this locker they entrusted their possessions, both valuable and trivial. Its clanging sound reverberated through the hallways, and along with a thousand others, sang the chorus between the chiming of the bells. Its contents were a sign of much that seemingly defined the life of its user: textbooks and papers, sportcoats and jerseys, cellphones and laptops. Yet, at the end of each year, none of this will remain: the locker will sit empty, leaving not a trace of who used it before, its space just as easily filled with the possessions of the next student to come along. The papers will be consigned to the recycling bin, the sportcoat outgrown and given away, the cellphone replaced by the latest model.

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While most of us have long since moved on from the days of storing our belongings in a tall, narrow metal box, the kind of activity that characterizes a student’s use of his or her locker is rather familiar to us. Our days are often spent travelling hurriedly from one location to another, filling our hearts and minds with things that we consider to be important. But just as a student, on the last day of school, will gaze into his or her empty locker and realize that all the things that filled it have been relativized by the passing of time, we too come to this awareness when we look into our own selves.

Were all these things for naught? Were they ultimately pointless? No. For the graduating senior, he books, the uniform, the electronic tools were all a necessary part of a key stage of growth and maturation, and the same could be said for whatever things we carry with us, whatever our stage of life. But they are not the end: they are not meant to fill the locker and the heart forever.

What, then, will? The short answer is, nothing. No thing: no activity, no possession, no accomplishment will fill us forever. And that’s alright, because our lives are not meant to be filled solely with things; they are meant to be filled with people. As Pope Francis wrote in his first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, our heart is meant to ultimately be filled with faces and names. It is the structure of relationships we form in an experience that endures, and this structure or relationships is grounded in the relationship who is God himself, for as we celebrate this upcoming Trinity Sunday, God is relationship.

As our students close and turn from their empty lockers, let’s pray that they always turn toward those faces and names that God has placed in their lives. Whatever and wherever our own lockers may be, may this be our prayer for ourselves too.