Today is a special day for seniors; basically, they get to take over the school. This means that the atmosphere is a bit chaotic, a bit nerve-wracking, especially because I am the person who pretty much spear-heads the day.
Mistakes that are made are laid at my feet.
Accidents…I’m kind of accountable.
And that gives me enough anxiety to twist my stomach into knots.
Today, a mistake was made that caused me to do nothing more than close my computer, bow my head in frustration, and bury my hands in my hair. I was ready to go home and find my porch swing or my recliner and my pajamas and just kind of go numb.
I hate my anxiety. I hate that it makes me second guess everything and makes me feel guilty for making good decisions that will keep everyone from being happy. But what I’ve learned from Rousseau is that making one person happy means that someone else will be unhappy.
I can’t always make everyone happy.
But I know that I have to do what is right and that this means that I will find my joy, even if that joy is suspended for a couple of minutes.
The fact is, in my moment of tension, when I unfolded the mistake and looked over the different actions and looked into each moment to see what I might have to deal with, I became a bit vulnerable.
And because I was in a room full of students, they saw this.
I don’t like showing emotions other than joy, love, and compassion to my students. I don’t mind showing them my frustration if they have caused it.
But I don’t want them to see anger, unhappiness, anxiety.
Even when I thought my dad was dying, I did as much as I could to hide my grief from my students. I was failing. I eventually went home. I needed to be able to experience the full spectrum of emotion and reconcile myself to what might be happening.
But anxiety? No. That is my emotion and not theirs. And my students have enough anxiety to fill the world with the bile of their worries and fears and tensions. I do not need to exacerbate the anxieties of these incredible people who, day in and day out, give me joy.
The other thing is that I try to show my students that anxiety and worry will not always assist with fixing the situations that they are in. That they need to keep level heads and organize their actions in order to get things done.
And sometimes, if I act stressed or anxious in front of my students, then they will pick up on my stress and anxiety. And I will not contribute needlessly to my students’ stress and anxiety. They have enough.
So, when I realized that a mistake had been made (an innocent mistake), I surrendered to my instantaneous reaction of stress. I am no James Bond. I can’t conceal my emotions as well as I wanted. And one student watched the emotions unfold across my face.
“Are you okay?”
“Is there anything I can do to help you?”
What a beloved angel. He saw the emotion. He saw the surge of frustration. And he didn’t exploit it. He didn’t make fun of it. I wasn’t the sudden subject of an Instagram post or a Twitter Tweet or a Facebook post. I was given my dignity. I was allowed to hold my integrity in both hands and just live through the moment and then think beyond it.
I have said this before. I will say this again.
A teacher’s day is most frequently determined by the students. A toxic dynamic of students means that even the best planned lessons might end before they have reached the glorious conclusion.
A student’s tragic story whispered to me during lunch can dis-color the happiest emotions because the focus has to shift to the child curled up in my chair, sobbing while holding out her arms, begging for comfort.
It’s not the angry-parent emails. It’s not the politics. It’s not the exhaustion because I wasn’t able to get my grading done and I can’t sleep because I’m having nightmares related to the subject matter (yes, they happen).
At the same time, my world is not defined by tragedy and tragic stories and tragic events. Sure, I teach depressing literature, but you will find that my classroom has more laughter erupting from it than people walking out feeling depressed.
Because my main lesson that I try to teach is compassion. To see the world for what it is and then to choose to be more than the definitions of the world and to go forth and change the world.
And this is done not by fists and closed hands. This is done by the open palm held out in a gesture of friendship and amicability. This is done with the open hand offered to the person on the group who has fallen or been pushed down.
I can choose to be anxious, upset.
Or I can choose to move beyond the immediate emotion and fix the mistake which really wasn’t as big of a deal as was originally communicated to me and say that the day is more than this one moment.
You see, I keep on seeing, in my mind, the concerned compassion on that student’s face, in the angles of his eyes as he looked over at me and thought beyond himself and thought of others.
This is why I teach. Not for the curriculum. Not for the summers off. For the students.
I wrote this beloved student a letter of recommendation because he asked me. Because he is a remarkable young man characterized by compassion. Because he thinks of others and the one thing I really want to do with my life is to help people help others.
And this lovely young man made a sign for my class, a welcome sign made of wood.
A word that indicates that people who are entering are wanted to enter, are wanted to a part of the world. A word whose tone and meaning indicate benevolence, kindness, compassion. A word whose phonemes are soft and gentle, indicative of…compassion.
I am thankful for compassion. I am thankful that I am a witness to compassion and I am thankful for being the recipient of compassion. I am thankful for the compassion of others. And I am thankful that others are willing to receive my compassion. I am thankful. I am thankful. I am thankful indeed.