Coming and Going

It’s good to be home. After my first 6 months of living on my own in what you would not be amiss to call a difficult job, I am thankful for the two weeks of rest and relaxation I get to spend with my parents, my sister, and my favorite canine.

Over the past few days, I have been thinking a lot about how much life I have experienced this year. I haven’t had much to time to just reflect on anything in a really long while. It’s been a whirlwind, but I’m still processing all of it and haven’t really found the words to express who I’ve grown to become this year.

Right now I’m thinking about Christmas, but more specifically I’m thinking about what my Christmas means in comparison to other people’s Christmases. Lord willing, tomorrow my family will follow the same process we have for many years past. My sister will wake up far too early, because–for as old as she acts–she is still a kid at heart.

She’ll no doubt wake me up too early and we will then spend half an hour pulling my dad’s mustache whiskers and pouring water on his bald head to get him to wake up (my mother will have already been up for hours preparing the Christmas lunch because she’s a saint).

Everyone will sit in their designated location as I play Santa and pass out gifts to each family member. Then my sister and I will go back and forth opening our gifts to make it last longer and because we both love to be the center of attention. I’m younger, so I blame her for giving me that trait.

We’ll give toys to my fluffbucket Biscuit periodically, even though we know she gets stressed out when there is more than one thing to play with.

My grandma, uncle, and niece will come over for lunch and, after a few hours together, it will be time for my grandmother to go back to the nursing home. Down to the four of us again, we will go see 1-2 new movies as per our tradition.

It’s a simple day, but it’s perfect. I don’t need many more things than my family, dog, and a good movie.

But I can’t help thinking about how this year it will hold a little more weight. I recently had my students answer an essay prompt about a special holiday they enjoyed with their family. It was just an assignment for me to assess how much their writing has improved and how far we still have to go before testing in April.

The vast majority of papers I got centered on a special gift that my kids had received, or a tradition they have with their families. One kid supposedly got an iPad for Thanksgiving, and I hate to disappoint her but… what could beat that at Christmas? Two iPads?

A couple of papers, however, didn’t say much or anything about presents. I read several stories of kids focusing on the memories they shared with family members, using these as lessons in holding on while you can.

You never know who coming or going,” one student wrote. I could tell this student had seen a few go, maybe even the very ones he was writing about.

Another wrote about how his favorite part of the holiday season is when his family shares what they are thankful for. He reflected on those moments and made a keen observation: “A value to have: thanks.” Sometimes children have more insight than us adults.

One of my students had a really hard week before the break. His father has been in prison for awhile, and won’t be out for an even longer time. I talked to him after school one day, searching for the right words to say to make him feel better, to no avail. He told me how long his dad would be in prison, and I realized then that his dad probably wouldn’t be out in time for this student’s graduation.

We’re incredibly blessed, you know? We don’t recognize that often enough. We may not wake up to presents tomorrow, or have many people around us. We may have lost some people over the last year to death or the ending of relationships. We may be struggling through the worst time of our lives; indeed, some of you may be going through exactly what my students are going through.

But we’re blessed. In all of my students’ trials and tribulations, they possess an unreal maturity about life. I revisited this particular student’s paper to see if his favorite holiday was one he shared with his dad; it wasn’t.

It was this past Thanksgiving. He talked about sitting around with the family he had and watching the Cowboys game. I don’t know if he chose this holiday because it was special, because it was the easiest to talk about, or what. But even though his dad wasn’t there, this kid was obviously thinking about him.

He wrote about how loud his family got watching the game, and how he couldn’t help but be saddened that his father wasn’t there with them.

I just sat quiet and thought about all the memories we had.”

My students haven’t been alive very long. There are many memories in middle school and high school that will soon replace old ones, or stand in their way for some time.

And yet, this student, for the even shorter amount of time he has shared with his dad, holds his father above everything. In the loud, distracting times we live in, his most important holiday thus far was one he spent quiet, thinking about his loved one.

Slow down. Stop moving. Stay quiet. We were meant to cherish the brief moments of love and hope we encounter every so often.

At the beginning of the school year, another student was sharing his story with me and told me that his dad died when he was very young. He said that before he died, his father had given him presents for Christmas that were broken, lost, or went missing before he knew that his father would pass before next Christmas.

“If I had known that he wouldn’t be here,” my student said through tears, “I would’ve kept those gifts.”

I think what’s important for you to remember,” I said slowly, again searching for the right words to comfort, “is that your father loved you very much and those presents were proof that he cared about you. It’s not the presents you hold onto; it’s the memory of your father that you’re supposed to cherish.”

A week later, that student was transferred out of my class and, until this week, I had forgotten about this conversation. I feel guilty for not remembering in time to offer him some comfort before Christmas, but in a way I suppose it is fitting for us both to relearn the lesson of the passing moments we get with one another while on Earth.

I suppose it reminds me to love with abandon for these few short moments we have. Sit quiet for a minute and think about who you’ve gained and who you’ve lost; then get up and tell the ones with you now what they mean to you. We owe it to each other, even if–and especially because–we will have to do some leaving in our lifetime.

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