I used to teach a student, let’s call her Serena, who I felt sorry for. She came to school with dirty clothes and lousy (as in louse-ridden) hair that looked like it had been sheared by her younger sister. Although she was usually cooperative and could keep up with the rest of the class, I knew something wasn’t right at home. Once, I overheard her talking about her “boyfriends” using language she was ten years too young for. Another time, she hid in her locker and wouldn’t come out no matter how hard I coaxed. Her mother was always shouting as she came in and out of the school, with Serena’s whimpering, snotty-nosed little siblings–always on the verge of a tantrum–trailing behind. They often caused such a raucous that by the time they left the building, other staff would be standing in their doorways shaking their heads at what seemed like a hopeless situation.
Whenever I wore my tight black boots, Serena would sit next to me during story time and trace the smooth leather hugging my calf. On the days I wore my long, cashmere poncho she couldn’t keep from latching on to the soft material. One day when I was wearing this poncho, the student body was called to the gym to watch a promotional video of an African school for whom we were raising money. She sat beside me and wound her fingers with the luxurious weave during the entire presentation. I didn’t mind; I figured it was the least I could offer her beauty-starved soul.
And then, near the end of the video she asked me a question. Nudging me, she whispered, “Are we lucky?”
I wasn’t sure I’d heard her correctly. Even though the video was touching, she seemed too young, and frankly, too unlucky herself, to be asking such a thing.
“Are we lucky?” She asked again, waiting for my answer.
I thought of her out-of-control mother; her crazy sisters; what it must be like to go home to chaos every night; and I didn’t know how to answer.
“Do you think so?” I queried her back.
“Yes,” she said slowly, “I think we’re lucky.”
The fluorescent lights flickered back on and the principal made his closing remarks but I wasn’t really listening. I was thinking about what Serena had just decided. How can she possibly feel lucky? I marveled. How can anyone feel lucky, or thankful, when life is uglier than it should be? And why is it that some people always feel shafted, regardless of circumstance while others, like Serena, feel lucky? Maybe it’s a chemical reaction facilitated by the correct neurological make-up. Maybe it’s a decision of the will, and of the heart. Or maybe it’s a gift. Whatever it is, I hope Serena still has it…
Happy Thanksgiving dear ones south of the border! I’m adding some pictures of our celebration last month because I thought it fit with the theme of this post. If you’ve always wanted to make holiday crackers for a festive table, be inspired, but don’t look too closely. These aren’t real crackers–they didn’t make the popping sound–but they were fun to make and a nice way to start our meal.
I hope you feel, at least sometimes, like Serena,