Editor’s note: Throughout July we are celebrating 31 days with St. Ignatius, a month-long celebration of Ignatian spirituality. In addition to the calendar of Ignatian articles found here, this month’s posts on dotMagis will explore cannonball moments – moments that changed the course of a life, like a cannonball hit the course of the life of St. Ignatius Loyola has changed. The inspiration for our theme is the Ignatian Year, which marks the 500th anniversary of Ignatius’ injury and conversion.
I remember exactly the moment when the cannonball struck. I sat in a large lecture hall full of aerospace and mechanical engineering students and took my final exam for the dynamics course. It was May of my sophomore year in college. Although many initial factors led me to take up engineering, my pride and unhealthy attachment to finishing what I had started kept me going for two years. However, the Dynamics course was the first time I really couldn’t do the work. In the previous Statics course, every equation we had to solve was zero. My mathematically oriented brain understood that. However, suddenly nothing was zero in Dynamics, and my brain couldn’t understand how to solve problems in motion. My stubborn nature refused to admit that in the end I couldn’t figure it out by sheer will and determination. My stubborn nature, much like the arrogance of Saint Ignatius Loyola, needed a cannonball for me to see the light.
After a semester of intense fighting, this cannonball came in the form of a simple white pile of paper in a crowded auditorium. There were only four questions on the exam. But I didn’t know how to do it. I remember panic building in me as I flipped through the pages and looked at my classmates. Each of them seemed to write furiously as I struggled to make out the words on page one. It felt so incredibly hot in this room and annoyingly quiet, apart from the scratching of dozens of pencils. I wanted to rip the test up and walk out into the cool spring air, but I didn’t want to fail either. It was by far the longest 90 minutes of my life.
In the end, I turned in a paper that largely answered one problem and a few lines that I hoped would make sense on the other three. I was so ashamed to hand over this paper. I wanted to bury it in the pile – or throw it all away. I managed to wait until I left the hallway to run and hide and cry. My friend found me and suggested that maybe I should speak to the professor before the final grades were on. I agreed and went to my professor’s office the very next day, not knowing much what to say. Surprised myself, I immediately blurted out that I knew I had done terribly on my final exam and that I knew in my gut that I wasn’t suited for aerospace engineering. In fact, I was pretty sure I wasn’t suited to be an engineer, period. It was the first time I said these words out loud. I promised the professor that I would never design an airplane or anything that would transport people if he just gave me a pass. I promised him, even though I had no specific plan, that I would get out of engineering as soon as possible. In the end, probably due to the massive curves that always came up in technical tests, the certificate had a big D on it – the first and last DI ever earned.
Looking back, I realized that this exam and D were the things that finally got me to be honest with myself. Though the impact hurt, it gave me a recovery period that I badly needed. After that, it was still a long way to what I am today, but it was the first time that I was able to admit a few important things that have guided me since then:
- No determination and no will could push me through something I was not originally meant to do.
- I was no less intelligent and no less worthy because engineering was not my god-given talent.
- God didn’t spend all this time creating me to be unhappy.
This was by no means my last cannonball, but I think it was the most important of my life. This enabled me to make the very difficult decision to change my major, which gave me the tools to make future, even more important decisions for myself and later for my family.
Photo by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash.
Read 31 days from now with St. Ignatius Gretchen’s The Missing Shoe: Deepening God’s Life in Me.
Use the hashtag # 31Days with Ignatius on your favorite social media and share your cannonball moments.