It’s that time of year where nostalgia for moments past peaks and where video montages prevail in abundance–tugging at our sentimentality for days gone by and seeding lofty resolutions for days to come. I say this having recently wiped misty tears from my eyes as a result of one of these carefully crafted caravans of visual memorabilia. It is important to note, that my tearful reaction is not a novelty–I am easily moved…children singing, for example, is sure to dampen my cheeks as does the privilege of seeing anyone (and I really mean anyone in the most liberal sense) live into the fullest possibility of some element of their potential as a human. So, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that this most recent bit of sap was in reaction to a collection of sports highlights from this past decade shown on ESPN. Look, I’ll be honest, every time I see Megan Rapinoe pose, I’m going to be kind of overwhelmed by all the emotion and pride that image stirs up. Her strength and her perseverance and her unwillingness to be anything other than herself, like her or not, is an inspiration to me and to countless others. And I will be moved every time I hear Joe Burrow’s Heisman speech or see that photo of him in his “Burreaux” jersey. And not simply because I am a Tiger fan or a Louisianian, but also because of his undying determination, leadership, gutsy hard work and his consideration of those who didn’t even know he saw their hunger–he didn’t just earn awards, he earned respect.
But tonight, as I watched clip after clip of athletes as they harnessed their God-given talents after countless hours of hard work that required sacrifice and stamina (even and especially when that effort felt futile) achieve the success they had only previously dreamed of, I found myself taken in by their emotion.
And I realized something else.
We don’t need montages of strangers at the pinnacle of their careers to draw us toward the flicker of humanity’s potential; we simply need to pay attention in the small everyday moments of victory. As a teacher, those moments overflow if I allow myself to recognize them for what they are. Whether it is the kid who finally realizes they are a writer after years of being told (both outright and unintentionally) otherwise or the student overwhelmed with anxiety who struggles just to get to school yet finds a way to survive a whole day of classes, the young people I work with are achieving victories every single solitary day. And those victories deserve to be celebrated, those kids deserve to feel seen in their moment of exceeding what they felt was possible. Because just maybe those tiny moments of feeling seen and lifted up will enable them to harness the determination and drive it takes to step forward into spheres of greater challenge. Maybe when we speak our witness of the truth of a child, we help to imbue them with the confidence they need to step out of their comfort and into that sketchy place that will not only usher them toward growth, but potentially also allow them to bring their goodness to the world.
And here’s the thing, if that is true in school, it is true in the world. If we just looked for the good in others; if we took the time to appreciate their small moments of victory (which might be huge to them but harder for us to see), we wouldn’t need a highlight reel to remind us of the human capacity for achievement. We would be struck by it everyday.
This endeavor requires a new lens…one that isn’t scratched by cynicism or selfishness…one that is gauged to more effectively see the truth behind the facade, the struggle behind the show. It requires the effort of putting that lens up to our vision even when it is easier to sink into judgement (and let’s face it, it’s sort of always easier to go there). It requires us to be for others all that we hope they will be for us…even when it is seemingly a debt that goes unpaid. It requires an extension of grace even when retribution seems simpler. It requires us to love our neighbors…all of them…even the ones who don’t make that call so easy to answer (and let’s face it, when we get beyond our own hubris, it becomes far more apparent that for someone else in this world, we are that difficult to love person…).
I’m pretty sure all of our hearts are at stake in this one. I’m also pretty sure that the outcome will be worth the effort.