Since I can’t seem to put this memory and the feelings it conjures up to rest, I’m taking a few moments to write about it. Maybe I’ll get some resolution. Maybe not.
Here’s the story. Years ago, I wanted to mix things up a bit in my Human Growth and Development online class. While there was nothing wrong with the written assignments, they got to be, well, boring after a while. So I got the bright idea of having the students write a semester long document with the overall theme of Life’s a Journey. My plan was that they’d start with prenatal life and the variables that went into making them who they were, the ingredients that influenced their journey…like inheriting musical proclivities or athletic prowess; physical attributes went into the mix, too. This blog isn’t going to be long enough to go into the multiple combinations that affect our physical appearance, but you know what I’m talking about. Are you blue-eyed in a brown-eyed world? Tall when everyone else is average (whatever that is)?
But let’s move forward. In childhood, what was the home like? Were both parents present? Did the family attend church? Was there enough money for the basics? Did the person live in an apartment, a luxurious home, a shelter? And where was this residence—country, city, mountains, seaside?
I wanted them to see how where they’d already been on their journey could affect where they were at that moment and all the moments in the future. Many students wrote about picking up passengers along the way, including spouses and children, and I recall being impressed by the creativity of that. Sometimes their journeys were bumpy and filled with potholes, and other times it seemed that they whizzed down smooth roads with nary a curve or missed exit.
As we neared the end of the semester, I opened the last of the documents, and things were going along swimmingly until I read the final installation by a young woman who wrote of an unforgettable Christmas. Her parents had been fighting, and there wasn’t much money for gifts, but still, she was hopeful. They had a tree after all, and her mom had cookies set out for Santa.
But the next morning is one that would be forever etched in her memory. She and her mother and little sister woke up in a women’s shelter with all their worldly possessions shoved into a black Hefty trash bag. Her mother, puffy faced and red eyed, was barely holding it together. I can’t remember the details of the story; I might have deliberately suppressed them. I just know there had been a horrible scene, one so haunting that the young woman writing about it not only recalled the trauma decades later but also one that gave her resolve to never, never, never keep company with anyone who drank.
Like I said, I read this document decades ago, and yet it still disturbs me. I think of that heartbroken, scared little girl awakening in a shelter on Christmas morning and hope her life has done nothing but soar through the years. I remember her story and feel compassion and sadness for all the little children like her, those who have crummy parents and/or no gifts beneath the tree.
I have thought of that Hefty trash bag every day throughout the Christmas season and feel guilt and shame about the excess most enjoy, myself included. Does that stop me from going headlong into the gift buying and giving during Christmas? No. I’m just as likely as others to leap into the commercialism of the season. At the same time, this year on the first day of 2020, I’m resolving to become more aware of the needs of others, especially children, and to do something about them.