If this was a “normal” year,  this week I would be surrounded by a wild, tangled clutter of colored strips of paper. On each one would be a “gratitude” written by a student, often in a near-unintelligible scrawl.

I would be grabbing the glue stick and, with a practiced rhythm, swipe the glue across one end, fold the other end up, press, hold and grab the next. Each strip would be bent into a circle, threaded through by another, and then another, and in this way the “chain of gratitude” would grow link by link and stretch across the room.

It is one of my favorite parts of the year.

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at [email protected]

In times past, the “I’m thankful for” prompt yielded mixed results. Among the heartwarming and sincere mentions of family, home, food and pets was a wild assortment of video games, snacks – and farts. Nothing like kids on the cusp of middle school with a platform. I’d made the decision early to never censor or edit. I simply took them at face value and moved along. After all, their goofy silliness is one of the things for which I myself regularly gave thanks – so why not honor it fully?

This year, there is no chain. For one thing, handing paper and pens back and forth isn’t a good idea, and even if it were, we’re not in the same room together. There just isn’t the same space to create this chain. I found myself oddly unwilling to let go of the moment, though. I didn’t want to lose that sacred space for saying thanks. And I missed their wit.

So I did what we do in this strange, strange year – I made it virtual. Yup, that’s correct, I made a virtual form for students to share their thoughts and the things for which they are thankful. It felt weird, it felt strained, it felt a little false. But, I figured, I’d just put it out there and see if anyone wanted to use it.

I was not prepared for the response.

This year, the silly replies are gone. Instead, I see my students giving thanks for “books and nurses,” “being able to say hi to my friends,” “being able to be in school,” “the technology that allows me to see the people I love safely,” “still being able to get an education,” “my health,” “my family not being sick,” and a list of specific teachers and programs that matter in their lives.

It’s a deep list. Part of me really mourns the loss of innocence that allowed them to write 10 – yes, 10 –  links on “the majesty of hot dogs.” Those were simpler times. Just one year ago. I would not have chosen for them to learn about the harsh realities of life just yet. And these are realities harsher than most grownups have ever had to deal with.

And yet. And yet I am awed by the grace with which they are, in fact, dealing with them. These kids are masking up, washing hands, logging on, keeping distance. They navigate the complicated new rules of hallways or the complicated new rules of cyber school. And through it all, they have reduced the clutter to what matters. They are thankful for food, family, friends. They are thankful for those who are looking out and taking care. They are looking out and taking care too.

I am thankful for them, and for the lessons they hand me every day. Let’s all take care, stay safe and be thankful.

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