“Love is Bearing Witness”: A Former Student’s Christmas Message

The St. George's Independent School Upper School Choir sings during the 2015 Service of Lessons and Carols
The St. George’s Independent School Upper School Choir sings during the 2015 Service of Lessons and Carols

[I spoke near the end of our Lessons and Carols Service early Sunday evening. Held on our Germantown Campus, it was a full Chapel with participants and families from each of our three campuses. It was a lovely service. Below you will find the reflection I shared.]

Good evening and Merry Christmas!

I have had a number, an impressive number, of amazing students in my career. I have been fortunate beyond easy thanks to teach in schools where my students were busy teaching me at every turn. Now well-over twenty-five years into my professional life, I have a list of students who continue teaching me long after they last exited my classroom.

One such person is Janet Smith who was a student in my AP British Literature class at Asheville School. Like so many St. George’s students, she was a smart, witty, often slyly funny class participant. She never failed to have something interesting to say.

On Christmas Eve 2012, a number of year after she graduated from high school, Slate Magazine published a piece by Janet entitled, “Christmas With My Homeless Aunt.” Its subtitle is, “She spoke fluent French. She came with mice in her suitcase.” And the first paragraph is, “When my father smiles, the wide gaps between his teeth are on cartoony display. His family could afford braces for only one child, and, as the girl, his sister’s looks won priority. In adulthood, Debbie was the homeless woman with perfect teeth.” Even if I had not known the author, I would have read it just for the title and hook alone. Paragraphs like that when written by former students make English teachers proud and even tempt us to try to take a tiny sliver of largely undeserved credit.

Her message in the piece has stayed with me, and I thought about it as I looked forward to this event, our Service of Lessons and Carols. Here is the part that captured me—the part that makes it a well-timed piece for the Christmas season:

Toward the end, here in part is what Janet asserts:

“…I’ve learned that love is bearing witness. That’s how my dad has always had to love his sister. He’s given her help whenever he’s had the opportunity, but mostly he’s had to show his love by bearing witness. He loved her by bearing witness. And, in his grief, bearing witness is how I love him.”

“To bear witness” is to tell or reveal the truth of something. The story she tells about her aunt is an extraordinarily hard one about the difficulty of loving, specifically, the difficulty of loving when we feel as if we can only fall short. We cannot heal all the people we love. In trying to help others, we can quickly find our own limits. Sometimes we can only “bear witness” to the struggles of others and the brokenness of the world and then go about doing the best we can to serve.

Celebrated in joyful song and important lessons such as those we have shared and heard this afternoon, however, this season, the season of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem, is the moment when we hear the good news that there is perfect love for imperfect people like us who so often fall short. It is the sort of love that can heal us and those we love and the world in which we live. The bearer of that good news is the reason we come together today. And that news, the news of Christ’s birth, is the reason we have cause for joyful celebration.

So with that…Merry Christmas, St. George’s! Here’s to a year of kindness, of forgiveness, of giving, and of loving. Here’s to a year of bearing witness. Here’s to a joyful holiday season for all!

Amen. Aleluia. Thanks be to God.

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2 thoughts on ““Love is Bearing Witness”: A Former Student’s Christmas Message

  1. Dorree Jane Smith December 17, 2015 / 9:35 am

    Thank you for a powerful message love and bearing witness! Gave me great insight into what it means to help those we love and those around us. And that sometimes it means just being there even when we cannot fix it.

  2. J Ross Peters December 18, 2015 / 10:02 pm

    Thank you so much for reading and responding!

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