I read through Facebook posts lately and I wonder if we’re really as calloused as we appear. We write about our dinners or the weather or March Madness. All the while, people in Japan have lost their livelihoods, their homes, their families, even their lives. In light of such tragedies, our lives can seem so small, and we can feel so helpless. But even if I lived in Japan, or Haiti, or any other area struck by devastating disasters, I’m not sure how I would or could best reach out to people who are hurting far beyond my wildest imagination.
I work part-time in a high school. I don’t rescue survivors from literal rubble but I do get the privilege of digging through life with some incredible teenagers. I don’t feed hungry families but I do get the chance to feed the passion of some budding young writers. Today I was completely humbled by the opportunities presented to me. Here are a few examples of these interactions…
Keith has an anger problem. Something made him mad today. I asked him what was wrong. He stayed silent as he took measured steps into my office. He sat down. He spoke calmly. He told me his anger management classes were helping. I nodded my head and smiled. He got up and walked slowly out the door and then added that he’s glad he gave up cussing for Lent.
Holly’s mom has cancer. Most days she looks exhausted. Today she was slumped down in a chair in the hallway waiting to talk with one of the Deans of Students. I asked if I could give her a hug. She sat up and said yes. I walked over and gave her a big squeeze. She sat just a little taller as I walked away.
Tyler stopped me before he entered his first period class. “Ms. House, I got into college. I’m the first in my family to go to college,” he said. We high-fived and I told him I was so proud of him. I could tell he was proud of himself, too.
Julia had a lacrosse game today. She got to dress up on game day. As I was about to pass her, she asked if it was true that they’ll no longer be able to dress up for game days. I had no idea. She told me she loves dressing up and she hopes it’s just a rumor. I told her I hope so, too. I meant it.
Sally brought me a cupcake. She’s testing different flavors of her homemade treats. I love cupcakes and I love Sally. She brightens my day not because of her treats but because of who she is.
I’ve known Stephanie since she was three. Her family was new to the area and they didn’t have family in town so they invited my family to her third birthday party. (How many times can I say “family” in one sentence?) I bought her fake make-up. It was sparkly. Just like Stephanie. Every time I see her in the hallways, her smile spreads across her face like rays of sunshine.
At the beginning of the year, Phoebe wouldn’t even turn my direction when I spoke to her, let alone look into my eyes. Since she was struggling in school, she spent a lot of time in the Deans’ office, which is located next to mine. Slowly, I started reaching out to Phoebe. Soon her head began to rise and her mumbles became coherent words. Phoebe is now in a writing club I sponsor. She has a gift. She writes with honesty. She writes poetry with heart and soul. I’m confident Phoebe has the potential to make a positive mark in this world.
Today as I was walking home, I passed Erica and Brooke headed back toward the school to get a ride home. I asked what they were up to. They said they were returning from an event about human trafficking. They told me it was depressing and that they felt so helpless. I could relate. It feels so overwhelming and I am but one person, I said. As we spoke, a man and a little girl, about 6 years old, walked up to us, holding on to their bicycles. The man asked for 75 cents for his little girl. Erica, Brooke and I told him we had no money, which was true. We watched them walk away, again feeling haunted and helpless for the little girl and the man with bicycles.
Alexis stopped by my office to see if I could meet with her after school. She’s trying to get clean, after a couple years of drug use. She says her parents don’t understand and she really wants help from someone she can trust. We meet to talk. I don’t give much advice but I challenge her and figure the best I can do is what anyone can do – listen and love.
I don’t write about these things to bring attention to myself. Honestly. I write these things because my heart overflows for these kids. I write these things because maybe you feel helpless and overwhelmed by what is happening in the world and you don’t know what to do. I write these things because responding with compassion to those who live in your homes, neighborhoods or workplace is one way we can love in the time of tsunamis, even if it’s in a medium-sized high school, in an urban neighborhood, in Midwest, USA.
*all names were changed in this post.