Every November I reminisce about the years I taught fifth grade when my classes performed Thanksgiving poems and plays. We practiced. We created props. We learned historical poems and memorized humorous skits and then presented several shows for the parents just before Thanksgiving.
One particular year, rehearsals were going smoothly. Speaking parts were being perfected, props were being designed, and the students were having fun. But then, just two days before the performances, Squanto got the stomach flu and spread it to the pilgrims who started dropping like flies. On top of that, Miles Standish announced that his family was leaving early for Thanksgiving break and he wouldn’t be there for the plays. (And you know I had specifically asked before casting if anyone was heading out of town early!) But the show had to go on, so with great resolve I took my role as director to a new level assigning understudies for the sickly as well as the would-be-absent main character. During that day’s rehearsal, I did everything I could to direct the students to act in just the right way and say just the right lines at just the right times. In a lull between several of my redirections, one of the remaining healthy pilgrims asked, “Why don’t you be in the play, Mrs. Miller? You could play every part.”
Because I knew this student well and because I am quick-witted, I said, “Thank you for recognizing my acting abilities and realizing that, with my skills, I could play every role well!” I turned with my nose in the air to continue barking orders. An instant later, I realized how funny it would be for me to perform the poems and plays as a one woman show. I started cracking up and soon we were all laughing. Without actually calling me a control freak, the little Pilgrim had made a good point. I laughed at the time, but later I pondered what he had said and decided his little quip was really an early Christmas present to me. His words made me realize that each of us is supposed to play just one part.
As we enter the time of year when we run from one activity or relative’s home or retail store to another, it’s easy for us teachers to set up our director’s chairs and start giving orders to everyone to “play their parts.” We begin to over-direct or want to control things like menus (“But I always bring that casserole”), or seating arrangements (“Please don’t make her fiancé sit next to Uncle Ned!”), or schedules (“But we always eat at noon on Thanksgiving”). Our bent to control circumstances so the show (or the dinner or the gifts) will be perfect can overtake our rational minds and begin to steal the joy of the season. Just as an actress cannot play every role in a production, neither can we control every circumstance of our holidays. If you start feeling like you’re directing a big production this Thanksgiving or in the days that follow, take a deep breath and think about what you would look like playing everyone’s part. Then laugh for a minute and be thankful that everyone has their own part to play this holiday season.
It happened again today. I was walking Boston, my 100 pound yellow Lab, around the block when he lunged at something and grabbed it before I had the chance to pull back on his leash. I knew what it was that he held clamped between his jaws. He had been plotting the perfect time to snag it for over a week but every other time he’d gotten close, I had been ready to say “No!” and pull him away from it. But not today. I stopped walking, stood still, and repeatedly said, “Leave it.” He stopped walking, stood still, and looked at me as if to ask, “Leave what?” After it was clear he wasn’t going to drop it, I let out an exasperated sigh and we continued our stroll around the block. Every once in a while I looked down at him and several times I started to wonder if he had dropped his little treasure. But then I’d look at his jaws still closed securely and think, “Nope. He’s still got it.” The other thing I noticed was that since his jaws were shut, he was walking with his head held high and was not stopping to sniff anything. Since sniffing is his greatest love (with belly rubs coming in at a close second) I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for him that he was missing out on thousands of sniffing opportunities as we walked. Other than doing his business, sniffing is his main reason for walking at all. Honestly, sometimes I think his nose is what actually propels around the neighborhood.
When we reached the front door, I stood with the key in the doorknob and said, “Leave it.” Once more he looked clueless. If he was a person he would have been whistling and looking from side to side, he looked so innocent. I crossed my arms and told him to “leave it” again. As if to up the ante, he looked at me and resolutely sat down on the welcome mat. I said, “We are not going inside the house until you leave it.” After several minutes of a serious stare down, he dropped his head and let go of his treasure: a half-eaten Big League Chewing Gum Lollipop with the crinkly blue wrapper still hanging on to the stick. If I hadn’t owned him for so long I would have been surprised that he gave up sniffing around the block, one of his greatest pleasures, in order to try to smuggle a piece of half-eaten bubble gum into the house. As I thought about it though, I realized I do things like that all the time. Without realizing it, I get my eye on something I think I must have, something that will make me happy, and I forsake other more important things just to have the chance to own it. It doesn’t make sense, but I think I can safely say that most people mistakenly put their hope or happiness in things. So today, I wanted to ask if, like me and Boston, you might need to “let go of the lollipop” and be happy with what you already possess rather than keeping an eye on what is still out there. Whether your lollipop is a new phone or the one you already have that constantly begs for your attention, whether it’s a new pair of shoes, or your job, or a new car, or an updated kitchen, maybe it’s time we learned a lesson from the yellow Lab and let go of our lollipops to get back to our first loves.