Thursday, November 3, 2011

How Are YOU...Really?

People amaze me...every day. I remember how, years ago, I was told that a freshman student of mine had lost his mother over the summer. I watched this young man for weeks thinking he would start having academic or emotional issues. I waited for him to crash, not realizing at the time that he would instead become the model of resiliency for me. Jason not only survived in spite of his loss, but because of his faith and his strong family ties, he thrived. I know he must have had his share of dark days and I surely would not have blamed him for faltering, but he grew to be one of those students whose character and personality would forever stay with me, long after he graduated from high school. I thought of him often over the years, wondering how he was doing in his adult life. Not too long ago we reconnected. Seeing pictures of him with his wife and child warm my heart.

I meet many students like Jason each year. Students who have incredible burdens to carry yet who, for whatever reason, are most admirable for their strength and perseverance. Some share with me their challenges and others choose not to, perhaps thinking I am unaware of what they wish to keep private. Sometimes I do not hear of a student’s situation until they are almost ready to leave my classroom at the end of the term. And sometimes a student never thinks to mention their personal story, thinking it’s nothing worth mentioning or out of a desire to be seen as being no different than their peers.

But today as I corrected a batch of papers I came across the writings of two of my students, two students who each recently lost a parent. The students are very different from one another and although I am not a psychologist, the professional educator or maybe the Mom I am sees that they need very different things right now, in terms of what I can do or can provide for them as their teacher. One needs me to be fair and understanding with deadlines but also needs me to stay the course, to keep the ball rolling so he can have that healthy distraction of his academics. I find I have connected with this student in the smallest of gestures, such as the card I slipped him when no one was looking or the subtle whisper of, “You can take a few extra days to complete this if you want. Do what you need to do. I trust you”. He smiles and nods “Thanks” to me and there is a look of appreciation in his eyes when he does. I am pretty sure he knows I’m pulling for him. In contrast, the other student needs me to hear her grief, to read of her journey without her mom, to offer words of empathy and consolation. She can’t move on without the regular discussion of her pain and I well understand that. As I read her stories, memoir pieces, poems, and essays, I witness her grief and I reassure her that I am indeed listening. I push her forward gently but firmly, and today I found myself writing her a note, sharing with her my own personal challenge this year, one quite similar to hers. Tears sprung to my eyes as I crafted the note but it felt right to reach out to her in this way. Life can be tough enough without having to face your high school graduation knowing your mom won’t be there to see you in your cap and gown. I wanted her to feel a mother’s love today, even if it’s from a surrogate who is just taking a little time to say, “Hey. Hang in there kiddo. You will get through this. Good times and the fun of life await you”.

I am amazed by people...every day. There is such strength within others that come and go in and out of our lives. Everyone we meet has his or her own burdens to carry. We rarely get the chance to truly know what those burdens are, and it seems even more rare an event that we get an opportunity to be of aid. But maybe, if we can manage to stop more often and take note of what people aren’t saying when we ask them, “How are you?” and they answer “Good. How are you?”, we could be of greater service. I vow to watch more closely and to listen more intently. And I continue to pray that I will do right by others, and know how to help lessen the weight they carry. “How are YOU..really? Can I be of any help? Will you please let me know. I’m here...ready to listen.”

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