The Threshold: Invisible Burdens

It’s an insight that only came to me after years of doing the routine thing that most teachers are asked to do:  between classes, stand in the hallway, be a presence, and greet students as they come into the room.  The first is what any good administration wants and needs teachers to do.  Adult presence in the hallway helps keep things in order.  The second piece–greeting students, is simply a best practices kind of thing. Teachers who make a point to look each student in the face, smile and greet them, every hour, every day, simply have a better relationship with those students, literally, walking in the door.  What I’ve had to learn, over and over again, is that regardless of how well I think I know students, I really don’t ever know what they are bringing across the threshold into my classroom, hour by hour, day by day.  They have shared with me some of those things over the years:  parents fighting all night long; a dying pet, grandparent, mother, father, sibling. Sitting up all night at the hospital with a sick loved one.  A house that burned down. Mom lost her job and dad disappeared.  Dad was shot and killed.  Babysitting all night while mom and dad work third jobs each to pay the bills.  Home alone with the butler, again, while mom and dad are away in Europe somewhere.  This is only a partial list.

It’s a truth that Paige reminded us of on Sunday in her homily.  Whether I have known you for the past thirty years or you are a first time visitor to our beloved community at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett, I have no idea what burden you bring across our threshold with you on any given Sunday.

Because our fellows are walking, breathing mysteries who are always having experiences and trying to process those experiences, it means that presumptive gentleness, welcoming and compassion are required in order to make our house a House of Hope.

At this point, I’ve had the privilege and honor (and okay, the challenge) of working with thousands of teenagers over the years as they step across the threshold of my classroom door.  Nothing tenderizes my heart more quickly than the thought that should I forget my presumptive compassion, I might be the one who handed to a young person the last straw–the last thing that they simply couldn’t bear.  Not only do I not want that–ever–but what it really makes me want is to be the one in whom a burdened being found just the kindness he or she needed to make it through.

Because we don’t know what they carry, as they cross our threshold.

Bob Patrick

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