Half empty? Half full? Runneth over?
Posted: Wed, 06 Jan 2021 15:47
As the new school term begins with further challenges for schools, Catholic teacher and deacon, Michael Bennett, helps us see the positives amid the uncertainty and strangeness. (Photo: Bruce Hong on Unsplash)
In the hazy morning sunshine of a lie in until after 8.00 am, half-way through the Christmas break, it dawned on me that the 4th of January was nearing and the new term was coming. My initial thoughts were ones of dread! I had so far enjoyed time with family, late nights watching TV and later mornings in bed. The day we broke up, the Government had issued plans for mass testing in schools; the 'R' number was rising, Christmas was all but cancelled! My glass was definitely half empty.
I took a breath, paused and looked at the situation in another way. I still had a full seven days of my break, there was still New Year to enjoy. My family and I were safe, healthy and, unlike so many in the country, we were financially stable. Life was good – relax and enjoy the present moment, Michael, I thought. My glass was definitely half full.
I was blessed to be able to celebrate the life of a parishioner as the minister at her funeral. In planning the liturgy, the family chose Psalm 23, which we commonly refer to as 'the Lord is my Shepherd'. I sat with them in the sacristy of St James' Bootle and we reflected on the words of this ancient hymn of praise and thanksgiving. The line 'my cup runneth over' touched me, spoke to me, enlightening my current situation and the way I had been swinging between my glass being half-empty and half-full.
Like all people, teachers have moments of darkness. Often when exhausted, or overwhelmed by the current and ever-shifting educational landscape, the glass can appear to be half—or sometimes fully— empty. Yet no feeling lasts forever and when we pause and embrace the present, we can see that in spite of the difficulties we face, our cup can indeed 'runneth over'.
The 4th of January came—it was yesterday— and I was greeted with best wishes for the new year, firstly by our Pastoral Manager. His smile and optimism for the term ahead was infectious. His cup was brimming and its overflow filled my own cup. The associate staff were busy communicating with vulnerable pupils, seeking to find out if there was any emotional and material help they and their families needed. This life-affirming caritas poured out like a spring of love, which again added to my cup. Teaching staff were busy posting on-line work, Heads of Year were coordinating assemblies and form time. The site team were 'gritting' the yards and paths; the aromas from the kitchen fragranced the whole building. And then the children entered the school: smiling, happy, sharing stories of their Christmas, telling all about the gifts they had received. Full of joyful optimism. Yes, it is true that we had a fraction of the students that we would have in 'normal' times, yet we had children. And this is what really made our collective cups 'runneth over'—our students radiating joy caused a flood of happiness.
The 8.00 pm announcement by the Prime Minister could seem like the glass is now half-empty, yet as Christian teachers in the tradition of St John Bosco, we must try our best to embrace the spirit of optimism. To be optimistic about the potential of the youngsters in our care to do good. To be optimistic that the staff in our schools can move mountains for those whom they serve. To be optimistic that we, as teachers, can embrace the children we are called to serve in friendship and peace.
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo SDB sums up this optimistic view beautifully:
As a Salesian, some of the most important principles l hold are of joy and optimism. In every circumstance, we are asked to maintain joy and optimism in our lives and Pope Francis constantly refers to having a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.
The Dalai Lama puts it another way:
Optimism does not mean being blind to the actual reality of a situation. It means maintaining a positive spirit to continue to seek a solution to any given problem. And it means recognizing that any given situation has many different aspects—positive as well as problematic.
'The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World', His Holiness the Dalai Lama, 2009
He gives us this advice: "Choose optimism. It feels better."
In the Gospel of St John, Jesus told his disciples not to let their hearts be troubled. I am sure he was inviting us all to be optimistic about our lives, as God takes care of all things. When we do not let our hearts be troubled, as the Dali Lama said, we ''feel better''.
In these difficult times, we all need to be do what we can to feel better. I invite you all to read and reflect on Psalm 23 and recall to yourself just how your own cup runneth over:
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name's sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord