Stephanie Hill: Live with a cause, help others
“Today is a beautiful day and I can’t help myself from trying.”
I reread the words once more. Huh. I turned back to the cover of the journal. I saw the scrawled lettered name, typical handwriting for a sixth-grade boy. I pictured the boy’s face in my mind. Cute kid. Smallish, freckled face that often has the expression of orneriness on it. He smiles throughout class and listens most of the time, although there are the few occasions I have to call him down for talking. Upon correction, however, he smiles and returns to his given task.
It was somewhere between 5:30 and 7 pm. The school was quiet as I sat in my classroom grading journals. After coaching middle school runners through another cross-country practice, I had returned to school to work, while I waited for my daughter’s high school soccer practice to end. I enjoyed the stillness the empty school afforded as I worked. Yet, words of a young boy had my mind abuzz.
My given directions asked students to describe a person who used their words to make a difference in the life of others. Before beginning to write, students viewed a brief YouTube clip titled, “It’s a beautiful day and I can’t see it.” Touching and poignant, the video beautifully demonstrates the premise, Change your words, change your world.
As an English teacher and humanitarian, this is an especially important concept, I believe, to teach students. Therefore, I marveled at this young boy’s twist on the clip’s title as well as the rest of his hastily written sentences.
Technically, it was not good writing. Poor grammar, incorrect punctuation, and countless spelling errors were in abundance. However, I saw potential and quickly decided to overlook the errors as this piece of writing was considered a “rough draft.” This fellow was spot-on in his message and in his heart as his words revealed the fact that his mom inspires him frequently to improve.
He spoke of the mistakes he sometimes makes, explaining that sometimes he can’t help himself. “It’s hard to always do the right thing, but Mom always tells me to ‘keep trying.’ ” Additionally, the young man added that watching the video made him want to try harder, not only to make better choices, but to use his words like his mom, and encourage others to keeping trying. Simplistic? Yes. Idealistic? Perhaps. Honorable for a 12-year-old, or for that matter, any age? Absolutely!
How often in life has a beautiful, or even not-so-beautiful day, come to its close, and we have not once “looked.” I have been guilty of this on numerous occasions. Days, weeks, months can become so jam-packed that we begin forgetting to take in our loved ones, our co-workers, our friends, much less noticing their faces, their eyes, and specifically their soul — that inner light within each person we encounter. When this eye avoidance begins to occur, it is my belief that we begin to disconnect from the real and into the misleading. Schedules, technology, especially “screened” technology can suddenly take priority over loving gazes, supportive problem solving and friendly conversation. This is when, I believe, we run the risk of reality-disconnect.
The short film on YouTube I shared with my students tells the story of a blind man begging for money with a simple sign that says, “I’m blind, please help.” Presumably throughout the morning rush hour, viewers are shown numerous people passing this unseeing man while likewise “blind” to him. All of this changes when one woman pauses to look in and through the man’s eyes. Then, she hurriedly scribbles something onto the man’s sign that the viewers cannot see. Suddenly, the man becomes inundated with a rainfall of coins, filling his can. Upon the woman’s evening walk home, the man asked her what she did. “I wrote the same, but different words,” is her reply.
The message to me is three-fold. First, the woman was paying attention to her beautiful day. Secondly, she took time to notice another human being. Lastly, she chose to use her words, in real time, to make a difference.
My sixth-grade student is listening to his mom. This is because he and she are paying attention to their “beautiful day” and honoring the sight of one another —even for the mom if that means correcting her son; and, likewise for the son if that means owning his mistake.
Some might liken the point I am making to karma. However, I liken it to living as if we are each a “cause” within the world. When we face our days with eyes and souls wide open, receptive to one another, and offering gentle “different” words, instead of the “same”— same photo postings on Facebook, same check of agenda, same check of Internet, email, texts and so forth — then we are choosing to live our life as a cause, with an eye toward the betterment of others. When this occurs we begin to find, I believe, that our days become more beautiful, even on the most overcast of days of life.
May we all see the beautiful day and find ways, like my sixth-grader, to try.
Stephanie Hill is a freelance writer and a teacher at St. Joseph Catholic School in Huntington. She is also a lifelong resident of Lawrence County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.