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.