On the Bright Side

One of the highlights of teaching is when I get to learn from my students. I’m so proud of these resilient, curious, thoughtful young people who come through my class.

This week a couple students stayed back after the bell rang to ask some follow up questions about comments I made related to the learning gaps students have globally due to COVID. “What do you think our generation has gained positively from all of this?” The question was completely genuine, anticipating a real response. In the moment, I was struck by the desire for these two girls to see how they were going to come out stronger from a pandemic that they’d tired of hearing about loss from. This wasn’t an attempt to ignore or avoid the loss either – this was an acknowledgement of struggle and an anticipation of growth. How can I heal from this hurt in a way that helps me to grow?

Honestly, just asking the question that way showed me one of the benefits this generation has: they will not give up easily. These students haven’t had much choice in how schools function, economies react, or medical policies are developed; despite that, they carry on. They keep showing up and giving their all each day. I’m impressed. It inspires me to keep showing up with my best each day.

In the moment, though, my response focused on how I was eager to see what this generation prioritized in putting back into practice. They’d lost so much over the past couple of years, and now I’m watching their schedules fill back up and students resist being over-scheduled. I think it’ll be an interesting trend to watch the following few years that have a coming of age generation that considers carefully what they spend their time on. There’s this initial desperation to do everything because they missed so much, but I’m curious to see how they carry on because there seems to be a dissatisfaction with activities for the sake of activities.

The question still struck me as profound, and I’ve been ruminating for several days on how we encounter tragedy and trauma. When I was in the hospital, I was told there’s a statistical advantage to those who have hope of recovery. I was told I’d never walk again, but even that didn’t rob me of hope that I still might. I remember a conversation with a stroke patient in the hospital who lost function on his right side – but he’d been told it was entirely temporary and that after several months of intense rehab therapy, he’d return to fully functioning and normal. Despite the differences in our prognosis, this man was angry, bitter, and spoke of the months he’d been robbed of by a fluke brain malfunction. He would seek me out though because he was magnetically drawn to my hope – he told me that he liked talking to me because I was such a positive person. Truth be told, I avoided him as much as possible because his negativity was draining.

I’ve never denied the reality of my prognosis: there are no medical promises of me walking again. But I have also never given up on my persistence to improve. There’s a piece of art in my kitchen made by a girl I used to babysit in America that reads in Ellie’s script, “Strive for progress not perfection.” I love that sentiment; I live by that idea.

Thinking of my students processing the pandemic, I don’t see a desire to ignore or cover up the losses. I see a clearheaded intentionality to make the world a better place. In light of the crappy hand I’ve been dealt, how can I best thrive in these circumstances?

I’ve lost a little due to Corona (who hasn’t?), but my consideration of this really lands more in my lifestyle post accident. As I approach the 8th anniversary of my accident, I wish that I was capable of more, but I also know I’ve gained so much more than ever expected. There’s an honesty that disability sucks, but there’s still hope that I’m making progress. I don’t have perfection in my ability, and it’s hard not to consider the shift from increasing time on my feet to core workouts and other exercises as some kind of regression. Long term, however, I’m hopeful of sustained progress. The minor setback of a couple months means nothing over the course of decades.

What have I gained positively from this? Here are a couple of thoughts: I’ve reframed what regression means. I’ve learned more about holistic healthcare. I’ve considered patterns of better self-care that are sustainable long term. I’ve spent more time in prayer over my own body. I also have even less shame in asking you to pray with me. Let’s ask for everything – nerve reconnection, muscle movements, a flood of peace in all circumstances.

Today is the first Sunday of advent – today we light the candle of HOPE. I’m so proud of my students who haven’t lost hope amidst this extended strange season. As I light my candle today, I’ll think about the hope I have in Jesus, the hope that carries through all areas of my life and brings a flicker of something bright in the darkness of discouragement.

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