Kindness beyond tears

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Tears are being shed today as first-day-of school scenes are playing out all across the village. Some tears are being shed by little ones…others, shed by their parents. And perhaps, some by their teachers as the last beautiful days of summer vacation faded away.

These are natural tears that reveal either short term fears of first time separations or realizations that our “babies” are growing up and that moms and dads are growing older. So while it will be good for friends and relatives to inquire, “How was the first day of school?” there are people we might know who could use more than a “how did it go?”

For some children, starting school at any level is a very stressful experience and a day or two of getting oriented isn’t going to result in the balance they need. Anxiety, self-doubt, an uncomfortable setting, a lack of family or familiar friends who usually guide them, unkind words from fellow students, misunderstanding instructions — imagine what you would feel like if you were burdened by an ongoing combination of these experiences.

And perhaps you did experience them when you were in school. Can you think of what helped you get through the school year? I suspect in most cases it was a caring person who allowed you to be you and gave you some patient encouragement along the way. Perhaps it was your mom or dad. Perhaps it was a teacher. Perhaps a brother or sister or grandparent or neighbor. These people didn’t take away the stomach aches, head aches or the very real stresses that sometimes disable children. But they were companions that let you know that you weren’t alone and that they weren’t going to hold you in contempt until you “got your act together.”

Even if you never had a personal experience of school distress, you can imagine what it is like in the life of someone you know. In the days ahead it would be good to pray for the children who are dealing with ongoing pain and discomfort. And then, figure out some ways to be that caring person to let them know there’s some support on their journey.

It’s not only some students who could use this support. Some parents are also stressing, not because their children are off to school but because there is a bigger drama happening behind the scenes. Perhaps the house is in danger of foreclosure and they might have to move outside the district. Perhaps there is grueling job stress or a medical condition that haunts their days or nights. Addictions of different types lurk in the lives of loved ones. And I’ll bet you know people with these kinds of heartaches.

You can’t pay their mortgage, or get them a better job, or heal their minds or bodies. But you can be that caring presence who, from time to time, reaches out with a supportive word, an offer to help in some way, or cake. No judgment. No shaking your head even when you know that some people make their own trouble. No giving unasked for obvious advice. Just kindness.

And finally, let’s not forget teachers and other school personnel who struggle to face a new year. Perhaps their mind is somewhere else — worrying about an ailing parent or a breaking marriage (theirs or their children’s). Perhaps they felt burned out at the end of last year and look with reluctance at starting again. While most teachers and staff face the challenges of a new year with joy and anticipation, some are woundedly working their way to the time they can collect their pension.

So how can you offer kindness to school personnel who begin the year with distraction or suffering? First, be deliberately careful what you say or post about that person. We can easily pass judgment as we roll our eyes among the circle of our friends and acquaintances. A careless comment behind someone’s back does a harm that we often can’t see. Second, look for “winning moments” and quickly move to praise and show gratitude. Finally, look for ways to show simple kindnesses — a card (or a cake) can go a long way.

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WEB EXTRA: Did you know that Saint Bernard’s Church is blessing backpacks and students, teachers and school staffs on Sunday, September 8th at the 9am Mass? All are invited as such a blessing can help in giving confidence, hope and courage to those facing a new school year. • 3100 Hempstead Tpke, Levittown NY
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