I am just your average common gal, living in Southern California.
I used to teach Sunday school at the Crystal Cathedral in the 90s. It was a magical time in a magical place. The magnificent Cathedral felt warm and inviting, especially as the sun seared through the reverent pieces of enormous glass panes that made up the church’s backdrop for the pulpit. It was my safe place. It was also a safe place for my students.
During my training, I was told by my supervisor that “The children who are hardest to love, need my love the most.” I dutifully took that comment to heart and proceeded to plan my weekly curriculums as any good volunteer would. However, that one line would soon be ruminating in my mind and swirling about my thoughts even as I tried to sleep at night. What exactly did that mean? It soon became clear.
As a newbie, I was charged with taking on the challenge of children with difficulties. In actuality, I got the gift of teaching those kids that didn’t quite fit in with the other clusters of laughing, skipping confident kids. ADD, mental disabilities, and even physical disabilities inundated my classroom. These kids were pure joy and love. Soon I realized that there was a special gift that embodied those Sunday gatherings. A rawness, pureness, and a plethora of compassion for one another, including myself. Ricky, a sweet little boy with messy blonde hair and piercing blue eyes, was brought in each week by his grandmother. He was homeless and lived in an alley with his mother. Even when offered a safe, warm bed, he wouldn’t leave her side except to ask his grandmother to take him to my class. Ricky’s ADD kept him hopping around the room like a rubber ball; it was actually invigorating and entertaining. Grandma told me that Ricky said our weekly class was the best part of his week. And then there was Sarah. Sarah struggled to walk straight as a result of her brain tumor. Multiple surgeries left her with the top left portion of her brain missing. She was beautiful, and I swear I could see into her soul as our eyes met. The remainder of my classroom soon began to fill with all the other kindergarteners labeled as non-conformists. Yet, as I saw it, they were all special. The term special needs evaporated from my mind like water on hot pavement.
Instead, I saw hope. I saw life. Real life. Real emotions. Those pictures are forever branded into my mind and in my heart. Not fake moments of happiness that society sees today from a well-prepared photo-shopped selfie or a Facebook post that captures a seemingly perfect scenario, only for the subject matter to return to vulnerability once the camera is turned off. Today, happiness seems to be measured by a fictitious standard, measured by a ruler of “likes.” I feel for all the youth of today that tries to capture perfection in a non-perfect world. It’s unattainable and daunting.
Hope bridges the gap between our vulnerability and our greater power. I thank those kids from years ago for showing me their vulnerability, as it provided me greater power. The power of strength, authenticity and compassion, and the realization that true happiness is far from “perfect.” I am far from perfect. Having that awareness makes life more real and certainly more hopeful. When I felt hopeless as a child, my stepfather would say, “Tomorrow is a new day and it will be better.” And it was.
I call upon those memories during times like now when a world full of fear from pandemic illness consumes our thoughts, peppered with a climate of political uncertainty. What we all need is hope and prayer. As human beings, we are powerful beyond our own understanding, yet we are also very vulnerable. Having hope and exercising prayer (whatever that means to you) bridges the gap between our vulnerability and greater power. You can name that “greater power” as you wish: core strength, subconscious mind, spirit, God, a Higher Being, or anything else that feels right. It need not involve religion, but it is deeply rooted in Spirituality. Hope and prayer belong to everyone. It is our birthright to be able to call upon these emotions from our own card-catalogs in our hearts and minds when we need to reread and reference. It is our capacity to reach beyond our limited sense of self and touch those endless possibilities that provide us comfort.
When my students felt vulnerable in any way, I offered hope through prayer to connect them to that almighty power that had eluded them in whatever situation, circumstance, or relationship they were associating with their suffering. I knew Ricky often went without eating 3 square meals a day. I recall when I taught my class that God said, “Have hope, even the birds do not know each morning where their food will come from – yet God provides enough worms every day for them to feed themselves and their young.”
As I type, I hear the words:
“Hold On for one more day” by Wilson Phillips.
I know there’s pain,
Why do you lock yourself up in these chains?
Just open your heart and your mind
Is it really fair to feel this way inside?
Don’t you know things can change
If you hold on for one more day
‘cause It’s gonna go your way
Yes, things are gonna change. And the change starts within us. Sometimes we find that we are the hardest to love. Turn to hope, it’s awaiting you just around the corner in the most unexpected places. Hope will get you through these uncertain times. Thanks, Ricky and Sarah for showing me where to find it.