An answer

I stood in the strip of sunlight and watched them. I watched them walk and laugh, talk, smile, shrug, look at their toes. They would glance at me, try to get away with a minor infraction. They would smile my way, some genuinely, some politely, some suspiciously. There were groups, fist-bumping, hugging, joking. Suddenly, it hit me. I was standing there, surrounded by people. Not kids, not students, but people. I could see their anxiety and joy, their worry and their light-heartedness. So many times I shut myself off to their humanity. I see it when necessary, or on a surface level, but when it gets hard, when I see their hurt, I don't know what to do with it and I turn off. It's like a switch deep within involuntarily clicks over.

It's not that I don't care. It's not even that I don't want to care. I just don't know how to do it right. There are so many of them and only one of me. There is so much heartbreak, and I only have two hands that can't possibly make all of the wrong right. So, I do what needs to be done. Evaluate what they say, decide if a report needs to be made, and to whom. Once or twice, their reality has been such that is was all I could do to wait until they were out of sight before bursting into tears. The girl who described a situation and asked if it was rape. It was.

The questions began. How do I handle that? How does she? What is to be my role here? And, once I open myself to feel a small splinter of their pain, what then? How will I ever teach them something so trivial as comma usage ever again? How could I stand in front of them and focus on anything except their hurt?

For weeks, I felt this internal struggle. Where do I draw the line? I can't constantly allow my heart to break for them, or it would consume me. But I can't ignore their hearts either. I couldn't figure out what is enough. I watched other teachers, all on various levels of this care-spectrum, and wondered where I should be. Some of them were jaded, and didn't seem to ever care about the kids. Some of them became stepping stones as students used their backgrounds to get anything they wanted. Many more in between.

All the while, I went about my business - my job of trying to teach them. I laughed at their silliness, became frustrated by their lack of responsibility, tried to express my desire to help them become better people. I would get distracted by lesson plans, attendance, deadlines, copies to be made, check marks on the never-ending to-do list.

And then one of them, one that I couldn't pick out of a crowd, did something to make me pay attention.

She tried to kill herself. She decided that life was too hard.

As I read the email, my heart wept. We were asked to retain as much normalcy as possible for the kids, so I went about the day-to-day. I collected homework, passed out grades. I tried to smile a little more, to see their emotions a little more, so as to be a help to those who had lost a friend.

Is this the answer? Allow your heart to break for them, but somehow manage to be strong for them when face-to-face? How will they know I care? Because I do have that answer. I have to care. I can no longer walk around pretending that they don't hurt. I have to allow them in. Now, today, that is so clearly more important than how well they compose a letter. It won't save them. It won't make their lives perfect, but it might help one. I don't think it would have helped the girl lying in the hospital on life support today. I know some of her teachers cared deeply about her.

I can no longer opt out of compassion for them. I can't pretend that my job is nouns and verbs and not love. Teacher or not, I am called to love these children.

I realize that I must walk this tightrope before them, strong and compassionate at the same time. I offer a hand, a shoulder to help carry their hurt. I tell them it will be okay.

When I am alone, I will do what I did today when they all left, and what I did when the girl who had been raped left my room. I bury my face in my hands and cry. I cry for their delicate hearts that can't see a way out. I pray for them to find hope. I pray for me to have strength and wisdom. I ask God, "Why?"

In front of them or alone, I will love them. I will care for them. I will pray that their hurt will be small, or, more importantly, that they can find Hope Everlasting. All the time, I will listen to the words they aren't saying. I will smile more, be more patient. They are people and they are children at the same time.

I will remember the quote, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."


Andrea Dorzab said...

This is so powerful, Kristi, and I think most people are so oblivious to all teachers have to deal with, including their students' lives and feelings as well as their own. It is definitely a calling!

Chelsea said...

I agree with Andrea's comment above.

Dustin & i have talked about what age we want to discuss suicide with our kids because my younger sister took her life at 19 and it seems like at that delicate age, kids don't realize that there is more to life than what they're dealing with at that moment. They see things in tunnel vision. (or at least my sister did.) I wish she could have seen me get married or have kids or see that life gets better. It makes me want to stress to my kids that death is not the answer when life gets hard.

What a mission field you're on my friend. I will continue to pray that god uses you, as he's been doing for those kids. what a hard job, but what a sweet calling. you'll never know what impact you had on this side of heaven. ;)

Anonymous said...

Very powerful Kristi good job! I often wondered if I was invisible when I was a child and I can't help but wonder if thats how both these girls felt, I unfortunately share one of their burdons.

K Newman said...

Wow. Thanks for sharing such personal details, Chelsea and Anony.

Chelsea, that's exactly it - "tunnel vision." I've dealt with it, that thought that it will never get better, that this moment is all there is. It's pure evil from Satan himself.

Andrea, yes, it's so much more than the written curriculum. There are so many other things that we have to teach them, and even more that many parents expect us to teach them. It's daunting.

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