In November of last year, 2011, on a cold, sunny Tuesday afternoon, I left school for 7-11 to eat lunch a few minutes before beginning my most dreaded class. I purchased whatever garbage presented itself as appealing and was ready to head back when I saw a teacher from my school standing at the 7-11 counter.
This teacher was an older guy with whom I wasn’t too well-acquainted. What I did know about him was that he had a good, dirty sense of humor, he was a wise, old English teacher, and he had a faint distain for our administration. I’d never really talked to him, though. So I stopped to chit chat.
I didn’t really know what to say, though, so I resorted to the basest of questions: “So, are you going home for the holidays?”
He looked off into the distance, suddenly going into textbook reflective mode. His voice was quiet and drawn out when he answered. “Reuben, I have been abroad for thirty years. I have been to this place and that. I have experienced so many different things and seen so much, taught at all kinds of different schools, and met all these different people. Throughout the years, various members of my family have slowly but surely passed away until there aren’t really any more. Now, I have nothing to go back for.” Pause. He looked me straight in the eye. “Now, looking back, one of my only regrets – but my greatest – is that I did not go home for holidays, to be with my family.”
I still didn’t know what to say, and I don’t really remember what I did come up with, if anything. We eventually went back to the school, and I went to teach the class at No. 94 that I dreaded, and life went on. For Christmas that year, last year, I went to Xi’an and Thailand and Cambodia and Malaysia and Singapore. Definitely didn’t go home.
This year, I recalled the dark monologue from that older teacher. And now here I am, sitting in my family’s living room in Rock Rapids, Iowa, next to the tree, thinking. Satisfied. Thankful not only for all that is here and that I have experienced this Christmas, but for hearing what I needed to hear to go and experience it.