As I am on Sabbatical from the congregation right now, and headed out to Boston to UUA headquarters for the final interview of the religious education credentialing process, I’ve chosen to take the time for an Epic Road Trip Adventure with my two kids. One of our stops recently was here, at Walden Pond and the replica of Thoreau’s little cabin.
At first, when I told the kids we were going to Walden Pond, they had no idea what the connection was. But when they saw the little cabin, they remembered what they had learned about Thoreau in their religious education classes over the years.
Perhaps not surprisingly, they remembered the story Henry Builds a Cabin by D.B. Johnson, which has been told in a worship service, read to several classes, and made into a Spirit Play story. The book series by D. B. Johnson is charming and he tells the story of the cabin very well.
But the real thrill for me was that as my son sat in that cabin he dredged up a memory from a lesson that I created for a mixed grade class at church in 2009, when he would have been only 6 years old. He said “didn’t we once have a class where you gave us a bunch of blocks and the challenge was to build a tiny cabin with the fewest blocks you could?” Yes! We did do that, and I’m actually delighted that it made enough of an impression for him to remember it five years later.
Of course, just remembering some random activity doesn’t mean that he really understands Thoreau’s philosophy, let alone that his life will be changed or transformed in any way. But it is touching to me that our children and youth remember things later as being profound or meaningful that at the time we may not notice as such, and that the weekly RE lesson or activity may truly become one of their defining moments in hindsight. When youth stand up and give their credo speeches in church, I have heard such moments remembered: that time we did a pie sale and it was the first time I ever got to help in a kitchen, it meant so much to me; when we were all talking to the minister and he said X, that really stuck with me; just being here and playing games with people who accept me for myself, that saved my life when I was depressed and lonely.
In the moment, we don’t know if it will be remembered, if it makes a difference, or if it’s even worth doing. The fruits of educational labor aren’t always seen right away – they may take years to manifest. And that is why this is a work of profound faith and hope, sowing seeds that we hope will grow but that we may never see. It’s a wonderful gift when we do get to see it – when a child has an obvious Aha! moment or when a youth looks back and remembers, but we may never see those things. Teachers move forward in faith and hope, so thank you for all those days when you showed up even though it didn’t seem to make a difference, or you worked so hard on an activity and then when the kids were asked what they did in class they said “nothing really”, or you lead a discussion that felt like pulling teeth. Those might have been profoundly meaningful to a child or a youth. Hold onto that.