Chelle Summer

Inspiration on the Periphery

Michelle Rusk

At a spiritual direction meeting last year, Fr. Gene told me– and I don’t remember what we were discussing- how he had once been told that after he gives a homily, he has no say over what someone chooses to do with it. He’s thrown it in the air and who catches and what they do with it isn’t his business.

Steve Mazzarella threw much in the air– of kindness, knowledge, and inspiration– and it was caught by many more people than I’m sure he ever knew.

After I found out he died early Sunday morning from a malignant brain tumor and I watched the comments begin to flow through Facebook, I thought about how my experience with him had been much different than many people. I wasn’t in Snowball nor was I a diver. But I sat front and center (surely not my choice– I have no idea how I ended up there) for his health class sophomore year of high school. And it was there that he left a lasting impression on me.

That impression, however, wasn’t immediately obvious because it wasn’t until after my sister’s death that much of what Mazz taught me came rolling back in the form of my own life as I completed a masters of education and then became a high school health myself. I still use the 50 goals we wrote out as an activity when I do workshops, making many people groan at the idea. For me, the idea of putting my goals on paper is much like a prayer or planting seeds in the spring the garden. It’s a place for them to start and it was Mazz who taught me that.

Somewhere along the line we got back in touch and before I moved back to Albuquerque in March 2013, he asked me to come speak to his advanced health classes. He had wanted me to talk about suicide to the regular health classes, however, because I was leaving, it wasn’t going to fit the schedule. Instead, he asked me to reflect on my journey to these two groups of students who were near graduation and stepping into the next phase of their lives.

It wouldn’t be our last communication, but it would be my last trip to my high school and the further I get from it, the more I see that it put some ghosts of my past to rest. I have recently been thinking how that year and a half in hometown allowed me to let go and move on from so much that I had left sitting in the darkness of my memory (all relating to finding my way in the world and coping with my younger sister’s suicide). By finally sweeping the out of the darkness and out of my life, I could truly move forward in my life.

Mazz’s influence on my life was on the periphery, but it was important to who I am today. He gave me many ideas and one big opportunity that helped me find my way to who I am now..

In one of his last messages to me– now several years ago– this was his response to the blog I had written about the 50 goals:

“How humbled i am....This simple blog i hope will give inspiration and hope to someone who reads it...and hopefully starts their journey!! its a pretty cool thing to do to put it in writing...but even ‘cooler’ when that goal becomes a reality! Keep your inspiring comments flowing and they will eventually touch the core of everyone who reads them!”

His life wasn’t as long as it should have been (are they ever?), but in that short time he inspired so many. Including me.