About a month ago, our school community lost a beloved friend, former colleague, current parent, and an incredible person by any standard. This weekend, we gathered to celebrate her life, and our high school gym could barely hold the attendees, a clear symbol of the lives touched by this amazing teacher.
Amongst the many inspirational messages, one thing stood out most clearly:
While most of us sat in unsettled silence, a young girl smiled.
It was the physical representation of a singular idea that couldn’t escape my mind – small love.
This woman, this wife, this mother, this sister, this teacher, and her daughter’s smile, embodied the importance of small acts of love. This small love is what creates the awe-inspiring love that I think we all hope for. Throughout the meeting for worship, each speakers shared a message of how this woman touched their life through a small acts – a kind word, a thoughtful gesture, a small but perfect gift, or a well-timed phone call.
For the last month, many of us have kept a close eye on her daughter, ready to help in any way we could. I have watched teachers follow her mother’s example, using small acts of love to bring peace to an unwanted challenge. And while this has obviously been a challenge for this young girl, she has met it with grace, fortitude, and a smile; and our teachers have played a role in allowing her to maintain that peace when it seemed impossible.
In the face of tragedy, these small acts of love became so clearly necessary and essential, they felt almost elementary. As I reflected on these moments, I thought, What if we could make every day like this. What if we approached every day, every class, every student with acts of love. Not some grandiose gesture that others can’t possibly forget, but a small act of love that shows how much you care.
Every teacher I know got into teaching because of a love for children. At times, we can get caught in the curriculum, the schedule, the daily grind of teaching. But if we can remind ourselves that teaching is about love, then we can remind ourselves that the small connections we make with our students are as meaningful as any knowledge we transfer to them.
We don’t really know what our students will remember from our time with us. However, I think it’s safe to assume that they are more likely remember how you treated them in a time of need than some reading strategy. I wonder about the choices I’ve made. Did I walk silently by a student because I needed to make copies for the next lesson? Did I forget to greet a young friend because I was thinking about the email I just read? Or, did I take a moment to give a high-five to the student who looked upset? Did I remember to ask them how the game went this weekend, or how their piano lessons are going?
To do these small acts, with thought and intention, provide the love that children need. They provide the connection that humans need. When I entered teaching, it was to have a meaningful impact on the lives of others. What I saw today was the realization of that impact – hundreds of lives touched, hundreds of lives improved, and thousands of positive connections that will branch out from those small acts of love.
All of this displayed in a daughter’s smile. While I sorted through the sadness and sorrow, this young girl’s smile seemed to share a secret; it is incredibly sad that more lives weren’t touched, but the powerful and positive impact that this teacher had on others should not be lost on any of us. If this girl can continue to smile, then I can surely do the same. We can surely muster the strength needed to commit a small act of love.