To My Educator Friends...
Currently, I am sitting in front of our Christmas tree. The lights are not on, though one would think that they should be since it's Christmas Eve. Without any light, the tree looks a bit sad. I can see through to the trunk, the ornaments look a bit dull, and the lack of a tree topper (I can't find one that really fits!) is very obvious. Overall, without the lights, our tree looks a bit, "blah."
Maybe some of you are feeling that "blahness" this year. Maybe some of you are wondering what's so Merry about this Christmas or Happy about these holidays. After all, for many of you in education, the last 20 months have been beyond challenging. First you navigated the unprecedented closure of school, where one day life felt normal and you were enjoying the little humans in front of you, and the next you were slowly realizing that you would never see those students in person again in your classroom. You went from teaching as stressful to teaching as grief-inducing.
Then, after a summer of processing the grief, you geared up for a school year that would challenge your ability to be one human with too many roles–online teacher, in-person teacher, cleaner, social worker, mask-police, parent, friend, spouse, child.... The exhaustion was real, but at least you had vaccinations to look forward to and the possibility of the end.
But, after a summer of feeling that potential, the fall of 2021 came with such a brutal force, slapping most of us in the face with the reality that COVID was not over and the culture wars had moved beyond knocking on the doors of our school buildings to marching through our classrooms and sitting at our desks. We turned on the news and witnessed parents shouting at school board meetings, protesting in the entryways of our schools, and bullying teachers online about racial theories that many of us had no clue even existed.
What's Merry or Happy about all of this?
Well, nothing, to be honest.
It's like staring at this unlit tree. One can see what the potential of what should be but it just looks a bit grey.
But, here's the good news. Life is more than the sum of all of these awful things. Life is the internal feeling of gratitude, that warmth that bubbles up from our chest and stings our eyes. Life is the external reality of the little humans we still get to pour into, the colleagues we still get to laugh alongside of, the accomplishments we still get to witness. Life is the internal expression of humor, that uncontrollable urge that leads to laughter and a smile, and life is that external knowing that the relationships you have invested in are what matter most.
Maybe we need to leave the lights on this holiday season, so our perspective is not on the grey but the love and life that still surrounds us.
I know many of us are anxious, and many of us are feeling a sense of hopelessness. (Unfortunately, this is the story the data is telling us at Opportunity Thrive.) We long for something different and wonder if we can continue in the space we call education. We know our jobs are important, after all without us who would nourish and build up the next generation? But, isn't our own health and wellbeing more important?
Yes, friends, it is, but the good news is that it doesn't have to be one or the other.
When I turn on the lights of my Christmas tree, it's as though a new tree enters into my room. The lights sparkle, the perfectly placed ornaments–yes, this is mom's perfect tree...the kids get the other one!–shimmer, and the trunk disappears into the mysterious fullness of the branches.
The phenomena of the tree reminds me of a quote I have held on to since reading, "We don't see things as they are. We see things as we are." (Anaïs Nin) If we are focused on the grey, we will only see the pain and hurt of the last 20 months, but if we turn on the lights and focus on the life that is within and all around, we will feel the blood coursing through our veins and the cloak of contentment wrapping its warmth around us. We will feel both alive and whole.
Does this mean that we need to shove the emotions down and pretend like we are not seeing the grey? No, I would argue that if I hadn't sat in front of this grey tree for a while, noticing all the ways that it seemingly lacks what I desire, I wouldn't have had the gumption to get up and turn on the lights. Recognizing that we are not feeling the merry or the happy of these holidays is the most important step because only then can we realize we're staring at the wrong tree. We need to turn the lights on.
So, this holiday season, our wish is that all of you will feel alive and whole. You will stare at the lighted tree–the one that reminds us that we are not alone, that we have purpose, and that we are loved. This holiday season we wish for both a time to name what is and a time to recognize that there is more, if only we turn the lights on.
Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas from Opportunity Thrive!