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Morris: Listen to the children, and all will be OK

POSTED: February 15, 2008 5:04 a.m.

Recently, I was in a local grocery store at a very busy time. I decided to help bag groceries. It had always seemed like fun to me. I suppose I was in one of my ubiquitous philosophical moods, for it occurred to me that any job seems fun, for 10 minutes or so.

Every task has a good and bad aspect, and rarely do we fully see either in the jobs of others. We are in search of greener pastures, perfect spouses, perfect jobs and perfect children. Daily, I realize how little I know, but I do know the dangers of seeking perfection. In fact, I revel in my own imperfections. They free me.

One of the first things I tell students at the beginning of a new school year is that I make MANY mistakes. If they point out each one, they will probably miss the lessons they are intended to learn. Yet the imperfection in all of us is important to see. After all, there is little worse in my world than thinking I am the only one who argues with her spouse, makes errors in parenting, becomes frustrated in my job or frequently allows weaknesses to consume the positive in life.

Yes, one of the joys of my job is in feeling very human, and passing on the secret joy of making mistakes. Yet as is often true in life, my efforts to impart learning, the value of education and the value of each person on this earth often brings peace and guidance to me. While teaching eighth-graders, I often feel that I learn more than they do.

Another joy of my job is having students return to update me on their hopes, disappointments, success and continued goals. I have one former student in particular who comes to visit almost every afternoon. David shares stories of high school with my son and me. Often I am grading papers, distracted, answering in monosyllables. He does not seem to mind. He prefaces all with, "Miss, did you know...?" and then relates the events that can only occur to a teenager: blind dates, classroom antics, the chores of homework, unfair teachers, etc. He is a class leader, refuses to join a gang, and even stands up to gang activity in his neighborhood, stating with authority, "You are not bringing this stuff to MY neighborhood."

David is an amazing young man who advises my seventh-grade son through the pitfalls of middle school. I worry when I do not see him for a day or two, and William and I miss him.

This time of year, neither the students nor I really want to be at school. It is close to the end of the semester, close to a long break, and at the end of too many days of hearing about the importance of spring's CRCT. We were all praying for snow days in 70-degree weather.

But home is no better. In the high activity of the season, we have yet to put up our tree. Our house lacks Santa, angels and nativities. It could be any season of the year, not my favorite season of all. I feel like muttering "Bah, humbug."

Christmas will come and go, and I am quite certain that I will miss it completely. It will pass me by, leaving another long year stretched before me.

As I bemoan the fate of Christmas fast approaching and my lack of preparation, I recall what David said on one visit. I asked the typical: How is life? He replied, "It is OK. I make it OK." Since my memory seems to be another fading aspect of my life, I wrote his words down. But I think of them often: "I make it OK."

So I crank up the radio with Christmas songs, go about placing angels and Santas, nativity scenes and snowmen around the clutter in my house. I sing along with the radio hoarsely, as I seem to have a perpetual cold. I try to make it OK.

Every job, every marriage, every home has its good and bad. I am convinced that there is no perfect existence, and many times we are too hard on ourselves for seeing only our imperfections and not acknowledging the imperfection that is inherent in striving for something better. We lose hope. We lose the spirit of Christmas. We lose our focus and our way.

It is ironic that, in wanting to help young people have faith and hope in themselves, and in trying so hard to encourage them, I find hope and encouragement for myself. I find wisdom in their words, truth in their perceptions, and an amazing resilience to obstacles they face daily. They have not lost or had beaten out of them the idea that they can change the world.

I still like to pitch in and help bag groceries. I am fascinated by my husband's tales of courtroom dramas, and I envy anyone who works outside for a living. Yet every aspect of life has good and bad, aspects we enjoy and those we do because it is required of us.

For those who will never have the opportunity to play teacher, even for 10 minutes, I have an assurance. Spend time with young people. Listen to them. You will see hope, truth, and the promise that you, too, can make life OK, for yourself and others.

I can see our newly decorated tree from my bedroom. My husband thinks the lights are crooked. I just smile at my imperfect tree and drift off to sleep.

Renee Hand Morris is a teacher and resident of Maysville. Her columns appear occasionally in The Times and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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