Everyone is 'blessed with a burden'
"Bear one another's burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ." -- Galatians 6:2 The New American Bible
"You have been blessed with a burden, my daughter." I momentarily froze.
"Did you hear that line?" I asked my eighth-grade students. Most looked at me with the "huh?" look.
It was the last day of school. We had spent much of the year reading books, journaling and writing essays/poems based upon events from the Holocaust and Civil Rights Movement. So on the last day of school, I decided we should watch Freedom Writers. This movie, based upon the book and true story, "The Freedom Writers Dairy: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them," demonstrates powerfully a phrase I had taught all year: "Your words matter. Your words have the power to create change."
Additionally, the teacher and author of this book used books and events from the Holocaust to open the minds of her students, members of rival gangs in Long Beach, Calif., during the late 1990s. In fact, the title, Freedom Writers, pays homage to the 1960s civil rights group, Freedom Riders -- an event my eighth-graders had also covered during the school year. Stunningly, this group of California teens, after reading "Diary of Anne Frank," worked together to raise funds to bring Miep Gies, the Dutch woman who sheltered the Frank family, to visit them in school. Geis is another person about whom my students had read, written and marveled.
I paused the movie and rewound it.
"There goes Ms. Hill, again. Off on a moment of inspiration," teased one boy across the room.
"You're lucky this is the last day of school, or you'd be writing a reflective piece on this phrase that I am about to play again," I retorted with a smile.
"I'll warn next year's students," another student good-naturedly teased me.
I grabbed a sticky note and pencil, and then pressed play.
"You have been blessed with a burden, my daughter."
I scribbled, "Blessed with a burden," on the square of paper.
Once home, I placed the note with my scrawl on the counter, below the banana stand where I would see it for the next few days. I rolled the words around in my head as I chopped vegetables or fruit in the kitchen. Wiping down the kitchen after each meal, I would view those words and contemplate their meaning. They were so beautifully paradoxical to me: blessing/burden. A lesson was waiting in these words for me.
Finally, eight or so days later, I typed those same words into Google; curious to see if this line was original to the script. Instantly, I viewed a full page of references that repeatedly included the Bible verse from Galatians. Huh, there was something there, but not necessarily original. Grabbing my Bible, I looked up the verse, and ended up reading the entire short chapter. Two phrases popped out at me. "Let us not grow tired of doing good" and "while we have the opportunity, let us do good to all." There was my lesson.
Am I following that principle of serving others with love? It would be easy for me to climb up on my soap box and say, "Well, I am a teacher. Of course, I serve with love." However, I confess my heart will not allow me to take that leap. Quite honestly, I am more than my career. I am a wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, writer, consumer, pet-owner, well, you see the list could go on as I think about all the varied roles I play. The point is, am I, in all endeavors, trying to contribute to the betterment of others and the world around me? I feel chastised in the face of this.
You see, Dear Reader, initially and quite vainly, I felt certain those words that rang so beautifully in my ear would prove to be a form of affirmation. Furthermore, like the teacher in the movie, I do feel the burden of wanting to better my students. Ultimately, I want to see them overcome tough situations and circumstances and become successful adults.
Instead, that once seemingly heavenly line was clanging sounds of humility in my mind. "Am I always doing good?" "Am I willing to bear the burdens of others beyond my classroom?" "Do I look for opportunities to do good -- again, beyond my classroom?" These are the questions with which I wrestle thanks to those nine words.
Therefore, I ask you, Dear Reader, with what burden have you been blessed? Is that one burden enough? Dare we seek daily opportunities to serve one another with love?
Furthermore, even when we think we have given all we can possibly give, is it possible to give more? Miep Gies did not tire of doing good for the Frank family. The Freedom Riders seized their opportunity to do good for the Civil Rights Movement. Countless others, often unseen and unheard, serve others with love on a daily basis, from daycares to nursing homes, from hospitals to hospice centers, from servicemen in harm's way in a far off land to social workers, police officers, EMS workers and firefighters close to home. In the end, those nine words highly personalized the lesson I had been trying to teach my students all year -- none of us, including me, are exempt from bearing the burden of another.
May we all be "blessed with a burden" and lovingly seek to "do good."
Stephanie Hill is a freelance writer and an eighth-grade reading and writing teacher at South Point Middle School. She is also a lifelong resident of Lawrence County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.