“Whatever may be the tensions and the stresses of a particular day, there is always lurking close at hand the trailing beauty of forgotten joy or unremembered peace.”
—Howard Thurman, from “Surrounded by the Love of God” in Meditations of the Heart
Some years ago I worked at an intensive day school for children and youth with emotional and behavioral disabilities. These were tough kids with tough lives, and with some regularity, one or another of the students would lose control and physically lash out. Part of my job was to help kids in such circumstances, to talk with them, and, when needed, to physically restrain them in order to keep them and others safe.
The school building was a converted majestic old Victorian house, and during the holidays we staff would decorate the grand entryway with lights, garlands, and a well-trimmed artificial tree.
Within days of putting up those decorations, one of our students would invariably end up taking their anger out on that holiday scene. The garlands would be torn off the wall, the decorations scattered and that tree left lying on its side, branches strewn all over.
It became part of our staff’s afternoon routine after the kids had gone home to put the entryway back in order. We made repairs, returned decorations where they belonged, and set the tree back up in its stand so that the room looked festive again before the students came back.
I asked the principal of the school why we didn’t just get rid of the decorations. Why spend all this time decorating a space so that the kids could tear it apart? It seemed like we would have an easier time if we just took the decorations away.
“We could do that, sure,” she told me. “But do you believe that our kids deserve some beauty in their lives?” I said of course I did.
“These kids have been told their whole lives, in words and in actions, that they don’t deserve beauty, or much of anything fun. Most of them believe, themselves, that they don’t deserve to be in a beautiful space. So we’ll keep at it. We’ll keep putting that room back together. We may have to do it every day. We need to prove to our kids that we’re not willing to give up on them. If we’re doing our jobs right, they’ll probably get it after a while and we won’t have to put the whole room back together.”
And then she said, “We just have to be willing to put those decorations back up one more time than they’re willing to tear them down.”
I remain proud that I got to work in a school that chose love and hope every day for kids that, honestly, it would be much easier to give up on—kids who were used to people giving up on them. It was a small thing, that decorated room, but the kids noticed. I’m sure that those decorations, and many other little actions taken there every day made a difference. It certainly made a difference in me, and in my sense of the power of true tenacious love.
My principal was right, by the way. By the second week, that room and all the decorations almost always made it through.
Loving Spirit of Life, Thank you for this world where beauty so abounds, and for all our many fellow souls, whose beauty we sometimes forget to honor. Grant us the strength, wisdom, and persistence to keep beauty alive, and help us learn to shine with so much love and determination that any that seek to tear beauty down, will instead be transformed. Amen.