We three Damms ended the school year mostly the way we wanted. In fact, I'd estimate the year was about 95 percent successful for each of us.
Which part are we more likely to dwell on? Some days, it's that 5 percent of disappointment.
We didn't make a team or group we wanted, we didn't score as high as we expected, we missed out on an event, we failed to earn an honor we thought was ours.
These are the expected, yet never welcome, disappointments in life, occasions that are often devastating at the time but usually minor (or at least much smaller) in retrospect. These are the character-building moments that we would like to avoid altogether — both for ourselves and for our children.
There's no benefit in sheltering from disappointment, though. Tears are shed — and tears eventually dry. Hearts break — and hearts mend. Feelings are hurt, plans are disrupted — and we get a new chance tomorrow.
Eventually, we find strength from the pain of defeat and sorrow. Sometimes, if we're lucky and paying attention, we even gain strength without the pain.
In the waning days of fourth grade, I gathered my students to the front carpet, and we chatted about our read-aloud novels from the year:
The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo
Loser by Jerry Spinelli
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood
Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
"Let's reach way back," I said, "and think about the themes, or life lessons, from our books." We talked about friendship, family and courage. And hope.
"Is there a message of hope in every one of these books?"
Students broke out into excited conversations. They recalled characters and plot, followed by evidence of hope in each novel. I scribbled their answers on the board, trying to keep up with their quick minds and contagious passion.
We had spent the year with these books and their characters, who in turn became our friends. We cried with Rob when he finally let go of his emotions in The Tiger Rising. We held our breath as Zinkoff stumbled through a blizzard in Loser. We cheered when our beloved silverback gorilla friend escaped his concrete domain and relocated to the zoo in The One and Only Ivan.
The room quieted again.
"I hope that when you are in a valley in your life, like Esperanza in her novel, you are able to reach back to these characters and remember that hope helped them through really tough times," I told my students. "Hope will help you, too."
Hope carries us through grief.
Hope means we look for true friendship despite a series of disappointing relationships.
Hope fuels us as we reach for big — even seemingly impossible — goals.
Hope buffers disappointment and disapproval.
Hope pushes us through deep valleys and propels us to the mountaintop.
Hope is essential for survival.
We can't avoid disappointment or loss, but we can prepare for the journey — by watching others, by reading, by living.
And we can spend more time celebrating the mountaintop moments, all while recognizing the value of the valleys.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.