Sunday, December 23, 2018


A Christmas Gift. Actually any gift for that matter. But for now, for the season, for this moment - a Christmas Gift. 

I relish the challenge of finding the perfect present for someone I love. What can I find that matches what this person has freely given me in my life? How much money can possibly be handed across the counter of a local store or charged through an electronically and emotionally distant Amazon Prime which will match what is in my heart? If you are like me, you probably grow entangled in the plastic emotion of the holiday season from time to time and require certain moments to bring you home again.

My friend Jodi and I joked last week during texts about how chaotic and stressful our lives were. She was preparing for her own family Christmas activities while juggling the stress of her job just as I was straining my eyes to read one more English exam essay while I fought the onslaught of sinus issues. We were both collapsing at the end of the day, praying for sleep that would never provide enough rest for the day to come. Jodi and I were both stumbling to some imaginary finish line of our own making. In these texts Jodi asked me if I liked  Tillamook cheese, and I immediately replied, "Oh, no. Jodi, we are not sending each other Christmas presents, are we?" My neck tensed as I dreaded the prospects of searching countless web stores for a present to air lift to South Carolina. We both agreed we did not need to exchange gifts, that our friendship and moments we had spent together over the years were presents enough. We both agreed to make sure we sent our annual cards. Jodi is so wise; I am, too. She may be wiser than I am though. 

The week rested on that conversation as I opened my eyes to gifts that I have been receiving all the time.

Teaching is full of the unexpected. Sometimes there are times when the papers and workload become impossible to juggle with the nearly one hundred teenage personalities who walk through my doorway on a daily basis. There are days when my eye-rolls become too numerous to count and weeks will end with my students gladly erasing the "Days Without Sarcasm" board hanging behind my desk. The ZERO has been there for more days than I care to admit. There are those minutes when I am praying that the bell will ring quickly so that those students who are "sanctifying me" will leave a little sooner so that I can break down without their seeing me at my weakest. 

But, there are those good moments we all miss when we are not present in our lives. For me, these are moments when a class embraces a project, creating something magical that I did not even see coming. These are moments when a class which has been a roller-coaster of emotions most of the semester settles down to complete one of the more thoughtfully written exams I have ever read. These are moments when a dozen students gather on a cold and rainy Friday night to sing Christmas songs to strangers at Center Market. This first semester ended quickly but left some wonderful gifts in my heart.

My friend Betsy and I took off to Morgantown this past Saturday. We both taught Chase Harler when he was at Central, and I had never had that perfect opportunity to go to WVU to watch him play basketball for the Mountaineers. Years removed from CCHS, Chase, like so many of the students I have been blessed to have in my classroom, is following goals he had set long ago, learning more about himself, his own drive, his own perseverance, and his own values on his journey. It was so unbelievable seeing him after the game at the Country Roads entrance to the coliseum. He hasn't changed much. Yes, Chase has his beard, his longer hair, and his additional four or five inches in height; however, he still retains that humble, genuine attitude to which people gravitate.

Chase is representative of what I, as a teacher, love seeing the most in all of my former students. I love seeing social media posts of former students graduating from college, students finding their passion in an office, in a kitchen, or in a school. I love those students returning from college to share how their studies are progressing and the new horizons they are exploring. I love to see students beginning their own family with a marriage proposal to or from the person he or she loves. These gifts are students finding happiness in their lives as they continue to discover their potential and the power they have in their own lives.

Finally, I can never forget important moments with family and the gifts which continue to be daily blessings. My trip to North Carolina over Thanksgiving to visit my son Robert and his family was surreal. I cannot begin to share the journey Robert has had in his life, but here he is working at Firestone, buying his first home, and raising two children with his wife Emily. I may be here in West Virginia, 500 miles away, but my heart continues to be connected there. 

I have family here in West Virginia as well. My brother Jim and Lisa live a short way over the hill with my niece Emily and Michael and, of course, Coop. My nephew Chris lives three houses down the street from me, occasionally asking me to "let Blue out" when he and his girlfriend Sami are on a date. Then there is Mom. God love her, but she gives me more than she realizes. The cookies. The occasional meals. The Sunday morning watching Bruce Springsteen on Broadway. We have had an identical talk that Jodi and I had about Christmas. "We don't really need to exchange presents this year, do we?" she asks. "We do so much for each other around here." Of course, she is right. Mothers are always right. (Just stop snooping around the house, OK?)

Life is full of moments like these. We need to slow down to experience and appreciate thoroughly these moments as they occur in order to leave lasting memories throughout our lives. No layers of colorful, shiny, or glittery wrapping paper and no amount of streaming ribbons or bows are necessary to make these gifts any more special. They are more than wonderful just the way they are.

Thanks again for everyone's support of My Corner of the World! I hope you, your friends, and your family have a wonderful Christmas!

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