The Greatest Gift
Quite unexpectedly, my youngest daughter made me cry last night. It wasn’t because she was mean. She didn’t hurt me or cause me pain. She made me cry because I realized that she understood something about us – something she needed to know. An off-handed remark about an essay she needed to write revealed what I had been struggling to convince her of through her own struggles this past year – No matter what – we love her.
A Perfect Storm
Teenage years are hard. Middle school sucks, and for all intents and purposes, middle school doesn’t end until after 9th grade. Teaching for 20 years gave me a bit of perspective on the matter. When parents would come see me, upset about their child’s performance or attitude, or emotional wellbeing, I often found myself telling them the same thing – just hold on until 11th grade. Freshmen were still mentally middle schoolers, and in tenth grade, they usually chose their path. It’s when they decide whether they will go to the dark side or not. I reassured many tearful parents that even if it seemed their child was choosing the wrong path all year – quite often, by the end of the year, they had realized the error of their ways and would turn around for 11th grade.
This year has been harder than most. Even under normal circumstances, these early teen years are fraught with anxiety and emotion. This year, coming out of financial insecurity because of my job loss, my long recovery after being hit by a drunk driver, starting freshman year, the fear of dealing with a pandemic, societal upheaval, and the isolation of quarantine – my kids, like many others have struggled under the stress. I’ve struggled, and I’m not even a teenager!
A Raisin In The Sun
This all brings me to my favorite play – Lorraine Hansberry’s, “A Raisin In The Sun
.” My youngest had just completed it and explained her assignment to me: find four quotes and write an essay about them. Naturally, I asked which quotes she had chosen. And naturally, like every teenager who wants to give a little and not too much, she brushed me off, saying she didn’t remember. Unluckily for her, I have nearly the entire play memorized, so I began rattling off some of my favorites.
Asagai: “Never be afraid to sit awhile and think.”
Asagai: “Then isn’t there something wrong in a house—in a world—where all dreams, good or bad, must depend on the death of a man?”
and finally, I began to recite this exchange:
Beneatha: “Love him? There is nothing left to love.”
Mama: “There is always something left to love. And if you ain’t learned that, you ain’t learned nothing. (Looking at her) Have you cried for that boy today? I don’t mean for yourself and for the family ’cause we lost the money. I mean for him: what he been through and what it done to him. Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most? When they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well then, you ain’t through learning – because that ain’t the time at all. It’s when he’s at his lowest and can’t believe in hisself ’cause the world done whipped him so! When you starts measuring somebody, measure him right, child, measure him right. Make sure you done taken into account what hills and valleys he come through before he got to wherever he is.” ― Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun
“I have that one,” said my girl, who has had so many struggles of her own this last year, as she walked out of the kitchen. Halfway down the hall, she stopped and looked back, “That’s the quote you and Dad live by.”
“Yes. Yes, it is.” The tears jumped into my eyes almost as quickly as the lump blocked my throat.
We would love them no matter what – when they were up and made things easy, and more importantly, when they were down and had forgotten just how loved they were, and she knew it.
Love Is A Choice
Growing up, we had plenty of struggles of our own, but there was comfort in my mother’s insistence that love was not a feeling – it was a choice. Feelings ebb and flow, and when things were hard, as they ofter were for us, the was an intensity with which she cast out her life-line of love to us. I always told my children the same, and at that moment, she revealed that she knew we would never stop loving her – thick or thin, sick or healthy, rich or poor, good or bad – those vows of love weren’t’ meant just for marriage – they showed we were willing to put in the work of love
13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but does not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
See the most accurate film adaptation here.
The major motion picture preview starring Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeil, Ruby Dee, Diana Sands, and Ivan Dixon here.