As I think over my years with Mercy, my mind goes back to my service…
As I move towards retirement and see more of the past than future, it seems clear that the creator has always had a plan for this school and for all of us drawn to work here.
For me, a few unlikely events led me to a life here that I could never have imagined. From my upbringing between the city of Richmond and the mountains of Mount Hope West Virginia. In search of spiritual peace, in search of purpose, in search of adventure and for certain to “the road less traveled by.”
My first day of work at St. Michaels Association For Special Education (SMASE) was my first sign that I was in the right place. Another staff member named Eric was giving me a tour of the program. As Eric knocked on the door of the accounting office, a mouse ran down the hall and up Eric’s pants leg. He frantically pulled down his pants in an effort to find the mouse. I stood and watched as the accounting staff opened the door to see Eric jumping around in his boxer shorts. He was screaming about the mouse. They were screaming about Eric with his pants down. I knew that this may be the right place for me. Adventure, surprise and humor in one moment.
From that day in August of 1978 to 43 years later I have few doubts that I belonged here. The Navajo Nation and the Diné people have blessed me in so many ways with their acceptance and with so many wise and generous teachers. They constantly remind me that purpose and spiritual peace are often the same.
This is perhaps why so many like me who stay here for very long are finding peace and purpose through sacrifice. So common among us is the belief that we learn so much more on the road of life than what we finally achieve. SMASE is a place of life for hundreds of students and families built by the dedication, skill and love of so many staff over many years. We are all part of the SMASE story. This is why SMASE is so special to everyone. It is why we come here and stay.
I have always felt that SMASE was a perfect fit for Mercy Volunteers. The mission of giving to others with care and compassion, receiving its intrinsic rewards along with the blessing of living, learning and sharing in the Diné culture and language. The simple beauty of a diverse group of people coming together here with the common purpose of serving the students and families of SMASE. The constant give and receive, the effort and sacrifice made and what we are blessed to learn along the way.
My advice to new Mercy Volunteers would be to serve at SMASE. Speak with any of our former volunteers about their time here. Service here allowed for their creativity and commitment to be utilized every day. Living and learning in the Diné culture provided life lessons that remain for a lifetime. Join the SMASE family and make your sacrifice here with us.
The final words are in recognition of my late wife Angela Johnson Conner. None of this story, my service to SMASE or my time with MVC would be possible without her. She fostered my courage and often guided me to the road less traveled by.
James Conner – Education Director
St. Michaels, Arizona