empty chairs matter

Seats of the Soul: Why Empty Chairs Matter

Every day, I go around the classroom and greet every child by name, and I inquire about the empty chairs. If a child is out, I want the other kids to know that child is important to me. Sometimes, I'll send an email, or I might need to ask the front office where they are. But I always notice the student, and I always inquire.

Because how I treat the empty chairs is how the rest of these kids know I feel about them when they're gone, too. They are important, and empty chairs matter.

How do you treat empty chairs?

The same thing happens at family Thanksgiving lunch. There are empty chairs there. Grandmother Martin, Granny Adams, Granddaddy Adams, and Uncle Caroll. They emptied their chair, and Thanksgiving will never be the same again. The empty chairs matter. When we pray, we thank God for those who sat in the empty chairs and send a message to our kids that we do not forget those who mean something to us.

Essentially, how we deal with the empty chairs signals this current generation of how they'll deal with our empty chairs one day. Life matters. And every single person matters.

Additionally, how you treat the empty chair matters when someone leaves your business or office. It shows if you're building a legacy or if everyone is forgettable and unimportant. Do you trash everyone who goes? Or do you work hard to celebrate the wins and wish them well?

How you treat the empty chair matters.

There's a haunting scene in Les Miserables where the young hero, Marius, sings the song  Empty Chairs and Empty Tables. He knows his life will never be the same because those chairs are empty where they used to laugh, converse, and talk.

Life can change in an instant.

Tell People You Appreciate Them While Their Ears Can Hear It

So I'm going to ask you something today. Don't be like the kid who suddenly comes out in tears after the person dies and claims they are best friends.

Appreciate the empty chair while the warm body is still sitting in it.  While it is not empty.

Tell people you appreciate what they mean to you now. It may be awkward but why not? When tragedy happens or when they leave, you tell them now.

If there's any great tragedy, it is this —that people are dying and don't know what they mean to us.

We will all leave an empty chair one day. What we leave behind are the memories of the mind. One of us might be the last voice singing about empty chairs and empty tables. But even when chairs are empty, we still have hope because we still have life!

Some cultures deal with death better than others. How we mourn empty chairs sets a precedent for how our empty chair will be grieved.

Remember the Empty Chair

When my friends sing no more, I will make new friends. But old friends always have a place in my heart. Their chair will always be empty at the table. I can replace my couch when it gets old, but not these people. Each of them was unique. No one can fill their place.

Family. Friends. Colleagues. Students.

Irreplaceable. We learn to live with a new normal. We have to move on when people are gone, yet we can celebrate and remember.

How will you handle the empty chair?

There would be the biggest tragedy of all. That is, if the person who sat in the chair meant something to you, and for you to ultimately go on as if nothing happened. Don't stuff it in. Mourn and mourn well. How we deal with death or loss is often how we deal with life.

How we respect the empty chair matters.

There are empty chairs and empty tables. What song will you sing in tribute? How will you live life differently?

How do you treat the empty chair?

The answer may say more about how you feel about life and people than anything else you do.

When my Grandmother Martin died, I will not stop living, but I will start living better. For when my day comes to leave my chair and travel from reality to glorious eternity, I hope I leave behind people I touched and encouraged in the short puff-of-smoke life I lived here.

Got an empty chair? Treat it well.

Know someone that when their chair is empty, you'll feel the pain? Tell them now.

Feel time passing? Live your life as a legacy of a life well lived. Write the story only you can write.

Empty chairs matter. So do full ones. Every single human being is a precious gift to be treasured and loved. May we live out that legacy.

Originally published: February 9, 2018. Updated: Thursday, August 31, 7:05 am

black and white picture of a chair on a tiled floor
Photo by canacarturk on Pexels.com

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Morgan February 14, 2018 - 5:57 pm

Vicki Davis,
What a wonderful post! I truly enjoyed your reference to Les Mis. that was one of the many incredibly heart wrenching scenes. You referenced early in your post about how you respond to the empty chair is how students feel you respond when they are gone as well. Even if the student is not there to hear what is being said, the other students are. It is so important to model respect and that every person matters. Excellent, I cannot wait to read more of what you have to write about.

Vicki Davis February 15, 2018 - 12:39 pm

Thanks. And yes, that is true. How we respond to the empty chair matters!

timimoron September 10, 2023 - 11:27 am

Awesome and insightful post! To add to this, how we respond to the “problem” child being out says a lot to other students as well. I know some colleagues who cheer and express happiness when that seat becomes empty. Your post is a great reminder that we need to build community in our classrooms!

Vicki Davis September 18, 2023 - 7:29 pm

It is so sad when that happens, Tim. I agree.

Rachel November 20, 2023 - 11:36 am

I appreciate you sharing this! Our students are always watching us and when they see how much we care about them, it makes a huge difference. This reminds us to be intentional with our students each and every day. This is a great reminder of the impact we have on our students.


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