I was drinking coffee in my chair before church when Stella appeared beside me.
“I need you to put these in my ears. I think they will look good with my dress.”
She handed me a pair of yellow flower-shaped earrings. Her dress was turquoise velvet and satin, her feet adorned with Darth Vader socks showing through clear plastic heels.
“Okay,” I said. “I like your sense of fashion.” I set down my cup.
Her narrow shoulders tensed and she squeezed her eyes shut. “Don’t hurt me, Mommy.”
“You know I’ll try my best, sweetie.” I touched the earring ever-so-gently to her ear.
“Ow!” The blue eyes–one with a splash of brown–flamed at me.
I knew the little ears must be sore from excessive accessorizing. I said I was sorry but she was going to have to hold still if she wanted me to do it.
She closed her eyes again, this time holding up her hair on both sides of her head. She started to chant:
How I got those earrings in without rolling into the floor laughing I will never know. But we got them in.
I’ve been thinking about that all week, and telling it to family and friends who enjoy Stella’s antics. Rainbows, butterflies, Santa Claus, Jesus–those make up Stella’s happy place. Thinking of them helped her through something painful, helped her get it done. She’s a wise one, my little Padawan. She chose to focus on the good.
That’s what The Gratefulness Project is for me, for us. A happy place. What good came into focus for you this week? It seems like I’m wrapping up this blog entry but I’m really just getting started. Here’s one of my best things this week: students.
Teaching is hard work, but man, is it fun. I honestly don’t know why I avoided it for so long. Like Luke Skywalker becoming a Jedi, it was my destiny.
Two things happened this week that brought me to tears. Good tears. The first was that when someone was bullying me about politics on Facebook, one of my former students took him down. Then another chimed in. And another. The whole scenario was pretty funny and ridiculous–but it became profound to me when people I’d taught in the past came out of the woodwork to defend me. To say they knew me, understood what I was about, and loved me. And they weren’t taking any sass from a troll. It was almost worth having the troll around. Maybe it was even worth it.
The other amazing thing happened in the classroom where we were discussing literary theory. I’d given my students this monster reading that even I don’t fully comprehend about all of the different schools of thought. Then I attempted to make it practical by reading them a children’s book and having them discuss it through the perspective of different literary critics. There’s such a diversity of age, social class, and ethnic background in my class that different perspectives are not scarce. It’s pretty cool.
Our chosen text was The Little Prince by Antoine de St. Exupery. I read a chapter aloud–one I’ve been reading to my kids for years. in case you haven’t read it, there’s this prince who meets a fox and the fox persuades the prince to tame him. Taming is a process by which you come to belong to one another. So the little prince does just as the fox instructs, performing little rituals like listening without talking, in order to gain the fox’s trust. In time, the fox is tamed, and they are happy together as friends. But soon it becomes time for the little prince to leave, which makes them both sad. He wonders aloud if it was even worth it, taming the fox, because of the sadness. The fox explains to him that of course it is. They will always have their memories. And just before the prince leaves, the fox tells him this secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye. Click To Tweet
When I closed the chapter I looked up and most of my class stared back at me in what I can only call a sort of rapture. One lady had tears running down her face. A big, burly man wiped his eyes. Still another clarified the words of the secret–she wanted to write it down so she wouldn’t forget.
I don’t know if I can explain the joy that washed over me–the cure that moments like these are for what ails me about the world. Because in those moments I’m reminded of what a sheer miracle education is and how lucky I am to participate in it. To get to be there the first time a person hears such beautiful words, captures a beautiful thought, or is just brought back to a beauty they thought they forgot. To be able to throw open the door for someone and invite them into the sacred conversation, the lively experiment that it is to be human. To see on their faces how exciting and empowering and comforting it is to know and share beautiful ideas. There’s nothing else like it.
This week I was reminded that it is such a privilege to interact with students. I am so thankful.
Ps. This is my student Becky Shurden who is a rock star and also my friend. I hope she doesn’t kill me for posting this picture.