Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Christmas Essay on the Power of Many

Holiday Blog Tour

An outstanding group of authors from all over America joined creative forces this month to go on a Holiday Blog Tour. Starting on December 2, with Julia Amante, and ending on December 24 with Icess Fernandez, 23 authors representing diverse genres and publication experience wrote, or will write,  a special Christmas piece on their individual blogs. It can be a poem, story, essay, memoir, or any genre each author selects for himself  or herself. We each read one another's blogs and spread the word to all we know, to keep the traffic flowing from one creative experience to another. This tour has been a wonderful exercise in nurturing a community of authors who inspire and support one another. Clicking on the golden tree ornament photo above will show you a full listing of authors on this blog tour and their dates of posting.

As we head into one of the most beloved holidays in the world, I look forward to the opportunities for reflection that this special time of year affords us. These are extremely hard times for millions of our fellow human beings, but if we still have family who love us, and friends who are there for us, we have much to appreciate: these are among the greatest gifts we can ask for.

My selected piece for this holiday blog tour takes me back many years, to one of the most memorable Christmas seasons I've experienced. I was an English teacher at Pasadena High School (Pasadena, CA); and on this particular occasion, my students taught me the beauty and power of people united in a good deed. Writing this piece enabled me to step back for a moment and reflect on those students and on their collective human strength. Enjoy, and please feel free to leave a comment.

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Sometimes a simple idea catches fire. Sometimes, in our desperation and frustration that we individually can’t do more, we reach out with a simple idea, ... and it catches fire.

The power of one can be the power of one hundred when a spark is lit, if the spark is for the good of others. We know this to be true in recent revolutions: the Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street protests, and its cousins across our nation. But the power of many is sometimes not a torrent, just a clear, burbling stream unchecked by boulders in its midst, just a timid, stolid movement forward. Often, in our individual spheres, in our little private corners of the world, this is how the power of many looks: small but stalwart.

One Christmas season long ago, as a young high school teacher, I wanted to light a little spark in my students regarding a family none of us knew. We had been reading and writing about classic themes of the season: charity, generosity, poverty, unity. Having two small children at home, I knew how much Christmas means to children; and my students knew well the sting of poverty in various neighborhoods of our community, including their own. Could we unite behind one family, a struggling family poorer than all the rest of us, and try to make a difference in their lives, even if just for one day, one Christmas?

My students were from all over the city, some of them having to ride buses for half an hour to attend school across town. They were a mix of kids: privileged, middle-class, blue-collar, immigrant. I told them one day, class by class, about a family I’d heard about in my church parish: a family of five, with three children and unemployed parents. I didn’t know their names, and I had never met them, but I had heard about the bleakness of their holidays.

I brought a large, empty cardboard box to my classroom and set it in a corner. It only took a few minutes to describe this unknown family to the students: the eldest girl, age 13; the middle son, age 11; the youngest child, a boy age 8. This I had learned from our priest. The class was quiet at first. Many of my students were not strangers to hardship. Then someone mentioned ideas for gifts for the girl. Someone else thought of things the youngest child might like. The conversation wasn’t really a conversation: just some musings aloud, half-muttered, some inklings of ideas being stirred. A few hands went up: Yes, they’d like to bring in a little gift some day this week. Could they wrap it up first? Yes. Should every gift be new? Yes. The yesses were coming from the students themselves, as they nodded quietly at one another. OK. We had some understandings, so we moved on to the classwork scheduled for that day.

It was not a torrent. It was a small stream that swelled a bit each day, that rolled a little faster at times. But each day, throughout the day, for the entire week, students paused by the large box in the corner of our room. Some placed a small package, light and thin, gingerly in the box. Others carefully placed one, two, three gifts, a tower carefully balanced, in the box. Some students peeked in, hands empty, hands stuffed into jeans pockets, but eyes curious. Some brought in a gift as if carried on a silver platter, face proud, smile wide. Some students dropped an unwrapped toy, or bottle of shaving lotion, or some such toiletry for the parents, into our collection. Some students shyly stuffed their gift under their desks as they did their schoolwork for the day, and only at the end of class, on their way out, unnoticed by most, did they modestly place their offering into the box.

And so the stream flowed. On the last day of the week, some of my girls brought in wrapping paper from their homes. I brought forth scissors and tape. Sipping punch, munching on cookies, students took time to wrap last-minute gifts as they chatted about this “project,” this first-time group charity endeavor for many of them. They looked proudly at their achievement:

Four large cardboard boxes filled to the brim with my students’ generosity, their charity, their kindness toward strangers. Their unity. The power of many in making a difference in the lives of others.

Some students wept quietly. Others beamed. We hugged.

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Featured blogger on December 15:  Sylvia Mendoza. Visit 
http://blog.sylvia-mendoza.com/ and go to her Author Page for further information.


  1. Thelma, what a great idea! This is an inspiration for all teachers. And I am sure that your students (and the family that they so generously helped)still remember that Christmas today.
    ¡Feliz Navidad para ti y tu familia!

  2. The spark that broke out and launch a flame of love. As the Olympians carry the torch, we must all carry this torch, lighting each flame. The simplest is often the most meaningful... And as we all walk that tight rope of life... we must understand that it is of the grace of God that carries each burden to be a building block for succeeding. I thank you, Ms. Reyna so much for reminding us of that moment, it is indeed a lesson for Life I carry today, in my own personal endeavors, a spark of love carries great weight <3

  3. Can't wait to see what you'll come up with for this year's tour!