A LESSON LEARNED OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM

Do you believe in signs?  I’m not talking about the kind that prompts you to exit on the interstate, or the kind that advertise a local restaurant.  Nor am I referring to the kind reflected in the lyrics of the famous Five Man Electrical Band song when the singer explains, “So I got me a pen and a paper and I made up my own little sign. I said, “Thank you, Lord, for thinkin’ ’bout me. I’m alive and doin’ fine.”” However, we’re getting much closer.

I’m talking about the kind of sign where God taps you on the shoulder and says, “Pay attention.”  As a reference point, consider the sign given to Pfc. Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield) in the movie Hacksaw Ridge [note: graphic battle scene depicted in link].  When called to enter the valley of the shadow of death for his fellow soldier, his response is a beautifully simple, “Alright.”  In other words, when God taps you on the shoulder, you listen, roll up your sleeves, and get to work.

But that’s just Hollywood melodrama, right?  Probably…but, the real Pfc. Doss did accomplish something unquestionably superhuman, and that doesn’t just happen based on proper diet and exercise.  I’m confident most of us could explain moments in our lives when the Divine tapped us on the shoulder and encouraged, “Child, open your eyes.”  On August 28 I opened my eyes, and what I saw was an interesting set of decorative acrylic letters sitting on the shelf of an old-timey drugstore soda fountain.

On August 26, Hurricane Harvey hammered the Houston-area with thunderstorms, tornadoes, and flooding, relentlessly sending wave after wave of severe weather. On August 27 and 28, Harvey stalled over Houston and continued to saturate the city and surrounding areas.  It was the worst storm to ever hit the continental US.  Growing up on the Alabama Gulf Coast, I know hurricanes.  Living in Houston, I know flooding.  The scale of destruction left by the storm in America’s fourth largest city was unlike anything anyone had ever seen.

Fortunately, my family and I sought refuge in Dallas.  While there, we consumed a constant feed of weather reporting, social media, texting neighbors and co-workers, and fielding questions from friends and family around the nation as to our welfare.  Sadly, my two young daughters were placed in front of animated movies for the better part of three days, which prompted a lunch visit on August 28 to the Highland Park Pharmacy and Soda Fountain on Knox Street.  It was an opportunity for us all to stop staring at a screen for a few hours and for the kids to learn about mom’s favorite childhood place for grilled cheeses and lime freezes.  While we accomplished the latter, I failed at the former and remained glued to my iPhone throughout lunch.  It turns out that while lime freezes don’t contribute to the anxiety resulting from a natural disaster, they don’t do a lot to fix it either.

As I finished my last bite of lunch, my phone rang. It was my boss, the Headmaster at Saint Thomas’ Episcopal School (STE), checking-in with me.  The news was not good—over half of school was filled with two feet of floodwater, the homes of many of our teachers and families had been destroyed by flooding, and school and church leaders (as STE is a church and school community) had a mountain of decisions to make and a small window of time to make them.  My boss is one of the most empathetic people I know, and the concern in his voice was tremendous.

As I hung-up the phone and swiveled on my lunch counter stool to pay the check, there it was.  Light filtered through the window and illuminated a row of shelves I hadn’t noticed when we entered. Prominently visible among a mess of miscellaneous gifts and sundries were some decorative acrylic letters that were arranged to spell out, “BE STE.”  My daughters are too short to have reached the letters, and my wife had been beside me throughout lunch.

I had goosebumps followed by a moment of clarity that we—our students, parents, teachers, staff, coaches, alumni, parishioners, and those who love and support us—are STE.  Our beloved campus at 4900 Jackwood Street is an important physical expression of our school and church community, but it’s not what defines us.  The love and support we have for each other, the community built by our predecessors that we’ve inherited and will pass along to the next generation, and the pride and investment in our students who become faithful alumni—that’s what it means to “BE STE.”

Afterwards, I went to Facebook, found posts pertaining to STE, and inserted the following among the many lamentations, “STE is more than bricks and mortar. We’re a school and church community united in Christ’s love. I have no doubt we’ll come out of this better and stronger than ever.”   In essence, it was a guiding statement on how to #BeSTE.

We’ve been tapped on the shoulder, instructed to pay attention, and now we have to roll up our sleeves and get to work.   From alumni making national headlines for their heroics during the flood, to teachers willing to instruct using “a sidewalk and chalk” if needed, to school and church leaders working 14 hour days to get our organization up and running, to parents answering the call for a last minute volunteer clean-up effort on campus, to families who have lost their homes and still go out of their way to comfort others…our community is modeling what it means to #BeSTE.

We hope you feel called to support our 600 students and their families.  Right now, the two greatest gifts you can give are your continued prayers for all those who teach and all those who learn, and if you’re in a position to do so, financially giving to our efforts to restore, restart, and rebuild STE.  You may access a secure giving site at ste.church/flood to assist with our recovery.  We encourage you to share this site with others as well.  Funds collected will have a direct and immediate impact on the STE community.

Remember to pay attention to the signs. When you’re called, feel free to use a wise man’s beautifully simple acknowledgment, “Alright.”

 

 

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Danny Kahalley, Director of Admissions at St. Thomas’ Episcopal School, has fifteen years of experience in education administration and has worked for multiple schools and colleges at the primary, secondary, undergraduate, and graduate level. He has his Bachelors degree from Rhodes College and Masters degree  from the University of Alabama.

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