Heroes. A couple of months ago, I was asked to deliver a speech, which I posted last week in a fit of exhaustion. The theme for the gifted and talented speciality center was superheroes and I encouraged the students to be their own heroes but also to recognize that heroes can exist anywhere.
I wrote about how Flipper was my childhood hero. To a degree, I’ll admit that I wrote that into the speech because I knew it was going to make the audience laugh. But it was the truth. I loved Flipper; when my friends and I played Superfriends, I was Flipper, the heroic dolphin.
A couple of weeks ago, I invited my sophomores to write a journal about heroism. Last year, when they were freshmen, they had written something similar and I asked my students to find their old journals, read them, and then write a new journal in which they compared and contrasted their thoughts on heroism.
We have been reading a book about 9/11, 102 Minutes, a book which discusses the people within the World Trade Centers. After having read the chapter about Frank deMartini and Pablo Ortiz (two Port Authority workers in the North Tower who chose to ascend and, thereby, free entrapped people), I asked the students to complete the heroism journal.
The responses were, frankly, amazing.
Students wrote about their parents, individuals who struggled to make ends meet and would sacrifice everything to ensure their children would want for nothing. Some fretted about sounding cheesey when they admitted to admiring their parents and seeing them as heroic. I did my best to reassure my students that their honesty was admirable and certainly nothing that was shame worthy.
One student talked about her parents’ work in Ethiopia. One student talked about her father’s life saving actions. One described his parents raising a special needs child.
Several students talked about their faith, how they saw Christ as a hero because of the ultimate sacrifice He paid. Others talked about coaches, doctors, police officers, and firefighters because they dedicate their time and lives towards helping others.
As I read each journal, I did my best to write something, anything to show that I had read and understood and respected what the student said. Most times, I have to confess, the comments were rather generic: “Yes!,” “Good point!,” “I agree.”
Other times, I wrote something specific to the student’s points. I was honored by the brute honesty that was within the journals. Several students talked about one specific student in their class, narrated his positive attitude regardless of what happened around him. His optimism and good natured personality inspired the students.
As an opening, I showed the students the photographic essay about Keshia Thomas, a woman who is my hero. I talked about how she literally threw herself on a man who was being beaten. I talked about how I respect her, how I want to be like her, willing to stand up and care for anyone, regardless of how malicious the person might have been.
One student wrote about the Good Samaritan,which was ironic because I had read that parable the night before.
Turning each page, I felt the world pull away from me and the day just collapsed into moments that hung like a nebula around me. I was surrounded by words and impressions and vulnerable emotions and was suspended in each stream of writing.
By the time I had finished reading the journals, I realized that the barriers I had been perceiving over the year had finally evaporated. Over the course of the last two weeks, the walls I have run into time and again broke.
In some respects, I think it’s because I finally brought the couch back into my classroom. At the old building, especially when I was in a trailer, I had a love seat/couch that used to be in the career center. When we moved to the new building, I was firmly told not to bring the couch, which worked because I floated for three years. Then, this last winter, when I helped with the play, I brought in the couch for the set.
Darn, in the months of play rehearsal and performance, I just happened to rearrange the living room and…darn….I didn’t really have space for the couch anymore. And, darn….the day when I was going to move the couch, it started raining and…darn…I didn’t have access to a big enough car. And….darn…with my husband’s shift work, it was really hard to schedule a time when he could help me move the couch so…darn…I left the couch in my classroom.
The barriers fell away. I had one student who recently opened up to me that she writes poetry. And it’s good…really good poetry. And she has asked me to edit the poetry and I have taken my recent lessons from my poetry mentor and started giving her suggestions.
She now spends lunches in my classroom, chatting with me about life, her concerns. Sometimes, she just sleeps on the couch.
Other times, we are sitting side by side reading poetry or talking about life.
Last Friday, another student sat next to me on the couch. At first, we were going over the make-up work. And then, I noticed a shadow of an emotion pass over his face so I gently asked a question. And, immediately, he just started talking….rubbing at his eyes as he tried to hold back tears that didn’t stay welled up behind the barriers he had attempted to construct.
The year is winding down. And I have finally found my stepping stones. A year ago, I stood at the beginning of this path, wringing my hands, scared and sad and worried.
And now, a year has passed, and I finally and really feel like I’m home. I finally feel like I am realigned with my purpose.
I am in the latter half of my career. I am eligible for early retirement in two years. And I won’t be pursuing it.
I will have my thirty years in twelve. I might stop then.
Or….maybe, I’ll just keep on teaching….
Just let me keep my couch….