Two days removed from yet another act of evil to befall an innocent school, I sit on the K6 bus bound for my own school, Saint Francis International listening to my news podcast. Debate is ensuing over how to respond to more violence in our culture. However, what I hear is certainly not productive. One side questions the other’s humanity, they respond by questioning the other’s sanity. I’ve always believed that the simplest answer is always the best, but my stop has arrived. The pause button is hit, and the kids arrive. Further reflection will have to wait.
It is Friday, thus the day begins with 3rd grade math. The window presents an image of dark and gloomy clouds hanging low over our school community. What a parallel to our larger society. While I prepare on the fly to teach the lesson, another part of my mind thinks about my recess duty later today. Inside or out, and how to cover the four classes? Finally, it is time to teach. As is their habit, the class applauded when they hear it is I who will teach them today; the first act of joy. The lesson goes off without a hitch. They multiply thousands by sixes and sevens and compare which is greater with sublime swiftness. I say without a hitch, except for the one girl who outsmarted me, by finding a second “Math hack” to add to the one I already taught. Smiles are all around by now. The day continues.
Some classes went outside, some stayed in so I venture to first grade. As I sit down to supervise while the teacher leaves for a break, one boy decides to turn into a magnet. He will not get out of my face until I sing “Let it Go” from Frozen. Despite my not knowing the lyrics, and the 55 degree weather not being quite so fitting for that song, they demand I sing. So I sing what I know, an old simple bluegrass number. Eyes light up, and there are wide smiles regardless. I’m rewarded by three kids petting my hair, along with an airplane sticker and bear hug from one of the girls. In that moment, my thoughts from earlier that morning, begin to find answers.
The recently beatified Solanus Casey is clear about how life ought to be lived, “We must be faithful to the present moment.” The kids of SFIS know and live this reality. They do not see the anger and vitriol happening just outside the door, but choose to imbibe the joy happening here and now. The ability to get more out of math class, the soul brightened by song, or the simple joy getting to put a sticker on your teacher’s forehead. They can see the innate good in people, and in society arguably better than anyone.
How then can we solve the problems of this world? Simple; the Gospel of Matthew calls us to “Change and become like little children”. They are sacramental personifiers of that innocence, love, and joy which is God Himself. Which is why it hurts that much more when any violence befalls even a single child. We as people of faith must learn to love and be joyful in the present moment, as children are. It is the only way that we will efficaciously be the light for the world that we are called to be. May this be our prayer, and work this Lent.