Never there to stay. Always temporary. A traveler. A couch surfer in their lives. Or a soul surfer. Whether for some months or some years, I know I am not a friend, not family, not a peer. “I am a passenger, and I ride and I ride…” Sometimes when my part is over I feel a bit sad, but I never forget that I should not get too attached and that I need to keep a healthy balance between a warm heart and a clear head. That gives me ease in allowing my students their space and respecting their choice of taking their own path, no matter their age. And I always give myself the same gift, too. Freedom.
And I know I will not be forgotten, no matter how fleeting the encounter. I have not forgotten any of my teachers. Not even the most boring ones. And I may be many things, but boring I am not. Sometimes knowing you won’t be forgotten can feel flattering, but more often it is quite demanding. Everything I do, everything I say, my body language, my look, my choices, my reactions, my feelings, my preferences, everything is perceived more or less subtly, more or less consciously, depending on how old and awake my students are. And it all makes a more or less lasting impact.
So when I break this little girl’s heart, I know it’s not something she’ll easily forget. I am teaching my weekly creative writing workshop in the after school program and I’ve just finished a brainstorming activity, passed the second step and I am getting ready to give out paper and start the first stage of writing when I notice her. She’s a tall, slim, long haired nine year old, quiet and shy. She’s in my class. I see her every day. And I have just noticed her now in my workshop today. Now. When I’ve already finished the warm-up, the lead-in and the preparatory activities and we are all ready to get down to writing.
Her right arm is raised, propped up by her left hand, she’s trembling and tears are running down her red face. She’s raised her arm as high as she possibly can in an effort to make herself noticed so she could contribute. And I didn’t see her. I drop the piece of chalk in my hand and rush across the classroom to her, calling her name. I sit down next to her and I take her in my arms, all the time kissing her hair between sentences.
The moment I see her, I remember looking up to my father trying to get him to notice me, looking at my mother going about her chores, always so busy, hoping she’d come and take me in her arms, I remember that time in my childhood when I thought people could not see your eyes if you look at them unless you also point your head to them, I remember how much I wanted my father to love me, I remember how invisible I was feeling in my former relationship. It all comes back to me in a flood of images, at the same time.
“Please forgive me”, I tell her. “It is my fault. I am sorry I didn’t see you. I think I cannot see well anymore. I should wear glasses. It is my fault. Can you forgive me. I am so sorry, my dear. So sorry. It’s all my fault. I know how you feel. I know I have hurt you. And I am so sorry. So, so sorry.”
Her warm tears have melted on her sweatshirt and are now popping against the skin on my neck and my arm. I can feel her heart pounding, like a wounded bird’s against my chest. I feel her entire body trembling and I can feel her pain. I want to take her in my lap and never let her go again. I know exactly how she feels. I feel her pain. I have felt her pain so many times. My childhood was about the same kind of pain. Not being seen, not being found, not being valued, being forgotten, passed by, skipped, ignored. My life is still about that same pain, only to a much smaller degree and much more consciously.
And so now I am feeling so grateful to her for the lesson. And to whoever is orchestrating this whole shebang. It is me who has done this. Me. I love her so much. My intentions have never been even remotely close to this. And I have opened her most painful wound. Unintentionally. I was just going about my work. To the best of my abilities in that moment. And I realize this is what everyone does all the time. The best they can, the best we can. Right then and there. And that, truly, we cannot do otherwise. If we could, we definitely would. And that the reality is that we are all most precious helpers for one another.
When her mother comes to pick her up, I approach her, pull her in the classroom next door and I confess everything. “I think this was for you, actually. It is you who needed to have this experience.”, she says smiling and hugs me before we say goodbye.