A Flicker of Light

Something I’ve always loved about working in education is the school schedule. The start of the year always brings about a sense of hope, followed by the seemingly endless October-November stretch. Just when it feels like I’m at my wit’s end, Thanksgiving hits and I exhale. Then it’s a sprint to the Holidays, highlighted by an excess of carb-rich foods, family time, meaningless sporting events, and a pervasive feeling of joy and gratitude.

At the same time, there is an underlying melancholy in the holiday season. I’ve dealt with some serious personal challenges during the holidays. The cold air and somber church hymns conjure painful memories that remain mostly dormant for the rest of the year.

But having a chance to sleep in, watch my kids unwrap presents, gorge on sausage biscuits and cinnamon rolls, always manages to assuage my sadness.

For many of our students, there is no escape from the sadness. Some lost grandparents during the holidays. Some lost parents. Some spent time in a mental health facility. Some aren’t eating big, decadent Christmas dinners, nor are they opening expensive presents. Some aren’t eating at all. Some aren’t opening any presents. For many, the holidays can be two weeks of pure hell, compounded by the fact that so many people around them seem so joyful.

While their peers are celebrating the break from school, they’re dreading it. They miss the social outlet, the caring adults, the consistent schedule, the guaranteed meal.

A student came in yesterday and I asked him my stock question for the day:

“Favorite Thanksgiving side dish?”

His response: “Nothing.”

After some joking and prodding: “Come on man, you didn’t eat anything at Thanksgiving?”

He mumbled: “My grandfather died.”

This time of year will always bring about a tinge of pain for this student, such that an Algebra quiz or World History project isn’t going to mean a whole lot.

December 21st marks the Winter solstice, the darkest day of the year. For many of us, Christmas movies will light our big screens and Amazon packages will fill our porches; we probably won’t even notice the darkness. For others, the darkness inside will be almost unbearable.

We often forget that one statement, one question, one smile or nod, can provide that flicker of light a child needs to move through the darkness.

I hope that you give and receive light this Holiday season.