I've also heard this thought expressed: "Some days you get the bear, and some days the bear gets you." Either way, the expression and the image relate one simple truth: life is made up of good days and bad days. As parents and teachers, we know this is a painful truth of adult life: it is made up of highs and lows, peaks and valleys. There are days filled with almost heavenly highs and there are life-altering days we'd rather forget. Both make us the person we are. Both contribute to our character and personality. But it's our ability to endure the bad days that defines us as people.
At the beginning of a new school year, parents and teachers naturally focus on the positives. We try to build our children's or students' motivation for the upcoming year by talking about the limitless possibilities of the next 10 months. We talk to them about all they can accomplish through hard work and discipline. We talk to them about soaring to the heights of success, getting all A's, not earning any detentions, winning the spelling bee, and getting the Patriot Award.
In other words, we talk to them about being the pigeon. We focus them on being the pigeon.
(I understand that some might consider labeling me a "pessimist" as a result of the thought I'm about to express, but I assure you, I am more interested in being realistic than fatalistic. Here goes!)
Be the Statue
How often do we talk to our kids about how to be the statue? How often do we share coping mechanisms for dealing with adversity? For losing the big game? For failing that spelling test? For getting caught breaking a rule, which is something we all do at some point in our school careers? If we adults know that there are days when you're the statue, why are we only talking to our kids about being the pigeon?
Age-appropriateness must be taken into consideration, of course, but what I'm suggesting is teaching and modeling the virtue of fortitude for our children and students. Fortitude has many different spiritual aspects, but the best explanation I can think of is that true fortitude means being the statue!
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines "fortitude" as "firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good" (CCC, 1808). Take another look at that statue in the poster above . . . has he given up standing there? Has he shrunk away, covered in pigeon droppings to sulk in a corner just because things aren't going his way? Not at all. He's still standing, still smiling, and patiently enduring his time of trial and difficulty.
Parents and teachers, I'd venture a guess that the very last thing any of us would want for our children and students is for them to grow up without the ability to endure trials or to persevere in the face of hardship, especially since we all know that the adult life that awaits our children and students will include some form of trials and hardship.
Just like we want them to be formed academically, it's important that they be formed in the virtues, particularly that of fortitude. The upcoming school year will have its good days and bad days. Your children and/or students will need your help and guidance developing the ability to endure and overcome difficulties. Let's start the conversation now!
My prayers are with everyone reading, with your families, and your loved ones. I pray for all students, teachers, and parents as we begin a new school year-- May God's loving kindness shine on us all as we seek to develop our young people's minds, hearts, and souls!