As a teacher, I have the privilege of sharing the lives of my students. As a high school teacher, I am given the gift of witnessing the growth of teenagers into young adults. And best of all, as a high school teacher in an alternative learning environment such as mine, I daily get to be a part of the challenges and struggles that make up the lives of our student body. In this, I witness the powerful healing balm of hope.
Emily Dickinson wrote a poem titled “Hope is the thing with feathers that I use in my 11th Grade English classes. One of the classic lines we spend time discussing is this one:
Hope is the thing with feathers
in the soul
that sings the tune without the words
and never stops at all*
Frequently, my students get stuck on interpreting how one’s soul can sing a wordless tune connected to hope. Many times we talk about how difficult it is to keep hope alive when it doesn’t seem possible or present. Sometimes, those discussions bring us to conversations about their lives and the tune that hope gives to their beings.
The lives of many of my students are filled with heartbreak, pain, and often, poor decisions. Broken homes are a norm, abuse of various types, family struggles to stay above financial chaos are frequent, while illegal drugs and alcohol are frequently used as a means to escape and avoid. Over the past five years, I have often come home from school with a heavy load, feeling the weight of life histories I cannot change and life paths that I cannot control. Aching with the desire to “fix things,” I have wondered about the value of what we try to change. What is the point?
Over the past 20 years, I have been challenged personally by situations that I never saw coming in my life. Physical disability due to an unfortunate accident, familial upheaval, monetary strain, emotional and intellectual challenges going beyond return, and marital disharmony that tore at my faith and my soul. In my own life, I have reflected on the immense hurdle of going beyond what is present in life at the time, and believing that there could be something more, something better. How do I allow myself to keep trying?
At my daughter’s recent high school Baccalaureate service I heard again the contemporary Christian song, In Christ Alone. After singing the first line, I choked up and couldn’t continue. It runs like this, “In Christ Alone, my hope is found, He is my light, my strength, my song . . . . ” The song continues to give voice to a God that doesn’t leave us in the heights or the depths; he is Constant, and Present. By the end of the song, I was weeping.
Hope is something that lives in us, radiating from our soul. Pain is of this world, this sinful world that is broken and tainted. Dickinson gives perspective to the idea that a soul sings a tune, even when the person may not consciously hear it anymore. Injured and distraught, we fight to locate the source of our song in times of pain; oftentimes, we search in the wrong places and without a clear tune. Echoing through it all is the voice of God saying “I am here. I choose you.”
How do I live in the fullness of my personal memories? How do I walk daily with my students on their journeys of pain and discovery? By remembering the source of all hope, Jesus Christ. Each day can be an opportunity to listen for His song, His wordless tune which tells the truth that someone does believe in giving grace undeserved, sharing gifts that were not earned and treating all as honored guests. I have Hope and I believe that each one of my students can experience this Hope through someone who loves them without conditions or expectations. Can I live with their pain and my own hurts? Yes, every day, one day at a time with the Hope that hums in my soul. ““Hope Is the Thing with Feathers .”
*Hope Is the Thing with Feathers (314). Poetry Foundation. Ed. Win Bassett. Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 03 June 2015.
*In Christ Alone, Words and Music by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend
*Picture of guest blogger Joy Zomer and two of her students from the Hamilton Community Schools’s website