Is it really that simple?

I stared out the window. My heart was heavy with worry and doubt. Behind me I heard the unmistakable sounds of changing classes. As I moved to my desk, I closed my personal thoughts then opened the Internet activity for my seventh-grade class. I smiled at my students who were noisily entering the room. Then I reached behind me for the connector cable for the LCD. When I turned back to face the class, I was met with a group of happy students screaming my name and surrounding my desk: “We’ve created a country for you! You’re the ruler.” As I stared into their beaming faces, I said to myself, “Oh please, I’m not really up for this today.” Though the Holy Spirit quelled my verbal response, some part of that must have shown on my face. Their next words were a persuasive chorus of “Everyone there is kind to one another.” 

I suddenly remembered an incident earlier in the year. As kids sometimes do, someone had been mean to another. After stopping the behavior, I had the teachable moment discussion regarding Our Lord’s wish that we treat our neighbor as we would treat ourselves. That day, I had told them my classroom was a “kingdom of kindness.” We were nice to each other not because of fear of detention (punishment), but because that was the world we wished to have so that was the world we needed to work to create. 

Amazed and invigorated by what the Holy Spirit had allowed to sprout from that seed, I grinned and asked “Just where is my new kingdom?” A student went to the globe, spun it, and pointed to an island which had “no name.” So now they had named it after me. Evidently my country was a tropical island paradise where everyone is kind to one another. Though I recognized the fairy tale quality of the story, in some important ways it would be a nice legacy for a Catholic educator. 

Sometimes life can throw us painful moments and we adults can feel so removed from the innocent, anything-is-possible world of children. We allow our hurts and subsequent bitterness to switch our focus from planning to survivor perhaps not even realizing how much we have lost. As Martina McBride in her song “Anyway” sings, “You can spend your whole life building something from nothing / one storm can come and blow it all away.” McBride’s reminder to “Build it anyway” may fall upon an aching heart wondering, “Just what difference does it make?” 

Msgr. Gregory Malovetz addresses this in his February 15 reflection in the book “Praying With St. Luke’s Gospel.” He suggests that John the Baptist’s call to the tax collectors and soldiers was God’s invitation for them to have a different view of their place in the world. Those tax collectors, soldiers and each of us are God’s children who are invited to and have a responsibility to dream a bigger dream. With God’s love a new beginning is always possible. 

What each of us sees or feels as we hear “Build it anyway” or “Dream Big” is God’s challenge and call to find a way (perhaps even a new way) to live out our love for Him. It is that journey or work on the dream that brings us and all those whose lives we touch closer to God. Sometimes we will be leaders when we dream big, but other times we may just be part of someone else’s vision. 

Our school recently reviewed protocols in case of an intruder. As my students and I practiced, we were on the floor for exactly four minutes before students started talking. I gently reminded them that we all had to remain absolutely quiet. My seventh-grade boys wanted to help me “take down” anyone who would enter. One gave me a lesson in magazine size and rate of fire for an AK-47! That silenced all of us. I asked if they wished the big boy/girl version. To their chorus of yes, I calmly replied that if any intruder tried to enter that they were to leave, keep running and grab any other kids along the way. I would stay behind. One boy strongly said, “That ain’t gonna happen.” Another student said, “Put your hand in the center here with us, Dr. Flavin. We are making a pact. If there ever is an intruder, we are all going to be silent. He will leave. Then, we are all going to walk out of here together.” Ah, regardless of what the world sends our way, working together to create the world we wish to have.

I shall never get an island paradise named after me. No matter, I have already found and live in a world where everyone is kind to one another.

Anchor columnist Helen Flavin is a Catholic scientist, educator and writer and a member of St. Bernadette’s Parish in Fall River.

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