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Sunday, 17 June 2012 22:45

The gift of presence is free

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A student came into my office yesterday. She had come back to school after Easter one week late and I was scolding her for missing classes. She will sit for national examinations in a few weeks, and I was concerned about her missing valuable learning time.

Then she explained to me what had happened.

She told me she didn’t have money for transport to return to school. She said she didn’t have school fees. She said she didn’t have exercise books to write in and that she hadn’t even had her own pen since September last year.

I asked her how she was managing to write notes in class without even a pen. She explained that she borrows from her friends.

Some of them get angry when she never returns their pens. Others just understand that she’s poor.

As this tiny 11-year old girl explained the situation of her father’s job loss and her mother’s subsequent departure, tears streamed down her face.

I just wanted to hold her. I wanted to tell her everything would be alright. I wanted to do something to make life better.
My few consoling words seemed to do little to ease the pain on her face and the worry in her heart.

All she wants is a chance at education.

She doesn’t want a pen. She doesn’t want an exercise book. These things are temporary. But she wants to build herself a future, and through education, she can do that.

It struck me as an educator, how we have a big responsibility. Yet sometimes it’s easy to forget how important our role is in the lives of those young people we walk with each day.

It’s easy to get caught up in examinations, delivery of syllabus in time, lesson preparation and producing good results.
We can even run the risk of getting lost in competing for results and lose sight of what we are really educating for – to help the students we teach to become all that they are called to be.

Students should leave out schools not just with good results, but as better people, with a firm foundation for the journey of life. What a huge task this is, to care for the development of each individual.

Yet sometimes we spend so much time running between staff meetings, timetables and preparing activities that we miss the child who is waiting for just two minutes of our time to ask her how she is.

And it’s not just in schools where the person is waiting for us to be fully present to them. It might be an elderly patient in a hospital who just wants us to give a few minutes to hold their hand.

It might be a neighbour who is struggling but we just wave as we walk by and brighten their day. It might be a fellow shopper in the supermarket whom we don’t even know, but as we pass by we smile and that makes a difference.
In today’s society with the worldwide economic crisis, maybe we don’t have money to financially make a difference to someone’s life. Yet the gift of presence is free, and perhaps is more significant than most things money can provide.
The story of this girl remained with me. To not even have a pen to write with is almost inconceivable. Yet this girl is one of many who would consider themselves lucky to even have the chance at education.

The more I think of the story of this student, the more I remember the hope that Easter brings us. With the resurrection of Jesus, we believe in life after death.

We trust that light will overcome darkness. We hope in a better tomorrow. Sometimes this hope is all that people have to hold on to.

Let us try to be more conscious of the gift of presence. Let us try to be more attentive to those whom we meet. And let us give them what we have – the gift of our presence, and the hope and the joy of the Risen Christ who promises us that He is with us always.

This article originally appeared in the 20 May 2012 edition of The Catholic Leader.