Ken Rogers shared this message with Park faculty and staff as the School prepared to head off on Winter Break 2021.
Life on the top floor of an apartment building means you need quite a head start and you better have everything with you before heading four floors down to your car in the garage. This morning was no different. And I was late…
I rushed down the hallway, remembering I had single-digit miles left before empty, remembering I had parked by the other elevator, and trying to read emails and check my schedule. As I approached the elevator already in rush mode, I was dreading that there may be others who wanted to share the elevator with me. Sure enough, there was a guy with a waffle on a plate and then two people came up behind me. As I panicked about the thought of a packed elevator, the doors opened…
…and there he stood. Cute as could be. Wide-eyed and dazed at the same time. Puffy coat like the kid in A Christmas Story. Binky still in his mouth. A little over a year old I’m guessing.
All. By. Him. Self.
Waffle Guy and I got on the elevator with him and I squatted down eye-level with the toddler thinking lots of things, not the least of which was that I was so not warmed up enough to be squatting that low this early in the morning. I was shocked out of my vain thoughts by the screams of the little boy’s mother below. She was on one of four floors below, crying out like only a mother missing her toddler would. She was banging on the doors screaming and it was absolutely heart-breaking.
We stopped at every floor and I jumped (OK, more like “leaned”) out to look for mom. No one on the third, the second, or the first. She was on the garage level. And when those doors opened, she cried out in relief, in appreciation, in a full release of the agony that had gripped her in those few short minutes.
What happened was she had asked him to stand by the door with some groceries while she ran back to the car and, in a moment, he had gotten on the elevator when the door opened…like every time before. We shared that we were glad to help, that it could happen to anyone, and as Waffle Guy and I went to our cars, I said, “Well THAT’S gonna be a story to share at work today!”
I have thought of nothing else since. About what COULD have happened. About what if that had been my precious Sierra when she was that age. About what that mom was feeling. About that sweet little boy who stayed calm and trusted us to get him to his mom.
I also thought of how once those elevator doors opened, everything I thought was important and urgent in that moment changed. And how easy it was to be “human” in that moment. To be fully present, teaming up with Waffle Guy to reunite mother and child. Although it was the stuff of superhero stories, I felt simply human at that moment. I’d also like to think any one of us would have done the same thing.
As we approach break, I want to encourage you to recall and actively engage in those simply human moments. Especially those we have experienced this fall among our frustrations, unmet expectations, and disappointments. Those opportunities to smile, to help, to rescue…to engage, to understand, to see through the eyes of others…to feel through the hearts of others…to acknowledge and celebrate what it takes for people to show up every day…to choose to ride the elevator with that sweet little one rather than judge or criticize mom for her mistake.
Looking back I realized not once did I judge her, because I remembered moments when I looked away for a second, when I wasn’t as careful as I should have been, when I, even now, am not the perfect parent, educator, partner, and friend.
In my own family’s holiday tradition, this season of lights means recognizing the gift of the divine taking on the cloak of humanity in a gesture of love. For me, this morning was setting aside the demands of my day, in a moment, to be fully present in partnership with a stranger, simply human, for a mother and child. I find myself now encouraged and challenged to do that more often and to more deeply marinate in the very lovely moments where that is extended back to me.
I’ll be going into Winter Break this year in gratitude for those in our community who choose to maximize those human moments daily, consistently, at all the right times, and in ways great and small. I appreciate what a gift this is to any community and revel in how it produces growth, joy, and love here at Park.
Break blessings and relief to you all and no matter your plans, I hope you find yourself surrounded by lovely moments of simple humanity. And let us look ahead to the new year with a renewed commitment to practice giving the gift of being simply human with everyone we encounter, including one another.
I encourage you to recall and actively engage in those simply human moments.