The Gradual Journey

Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability–and that it may take a very long time…only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.

-Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

It has been a spring of indecision, doubt,and emotional/mental turmoil. I can’t remember the last time I had been through a time of being so uncertain about what the future would hold for me. I had convinced myself that the entire universe had conspired against me and that nothing was working out and nothing would ever work out. I had the words impossible on my every breath, and it mired me in despair.

I guess you can say that I don’t like not knowing.

I was looking into the face of the unknown, the lack of promises, and I was being battered down. And I was allowing myself to lose. This stage of instability is frightening because I do not know how long it will last. I know that I am on the path to somewhere, but treading water in the middle of the vast ocean is a daunting task. I was ready to give up and take an easy road. But then one day I saw what I took for a sign. It reminded me that I was just in the middle of my story and all great stories include the parts where the hero is not quite sure of his or her path. I started to become more content with uncertainty, I began to just trust that everything would work out. And slowly, I think it is. I don’t know how long it will take, and it very well may take a very long time, but instead of living in fear, I am now choosing to live in excitement of who that me will be who waits on the other side. The me I am becoming as I sit here and type this, trusting that there are just as many lessons to be learned along the path of uncertainty and the unknown as when I get there.

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Time Out to Read

Whenever my environment had failed to support or nourish me, I had clutched at books  -Richard Wright, Black Boy

 

Today I caught up on my teacher email account. I was rewarded with an email that made me sit in my room crying with joy over the things one must always remember really matter. It said:

This school year has been very challenging for me. When you told me that I was reading on a eight grade reading level my heart was melting. Seriously. I love to read i really do, but lately i haven’t had enough free time to read anything I desire. Then, when you started letting us read in small group my reading level jumped from an ”8” to a ”10”. Thanks to you Ms. Younge I managed to increase as a reader and a student.

It always amazes me just how controversial it has been this year to run diagnostic reading tests and continued progress monitoring tests on my students this year. Moreover, those in charge have tried to push my back into corners over something that I thought would be the cornerstone of my class: reading. I am a reading teacher. I work with the lowest performing students in the building. Their issue is “simple”–they cannot read on grade level, so they struggle to perform on state standardized test that are on grade level texts. More than that though, when all a class does is prepare students for a 55 question multiple choice test, they obliterate the redemptive powers of literature. One of the reasons that Richard Wright’s autobiography Black Boy continues to be one of my favorite books of all time is because of the solace Wright found within the pages of the books he so dearly clung to when all around him his world fell apart. And through books, he was able to pick up the pieces and start a life for himself. And as he wrote, he found more of his self-worth and began making meaning for himself. Wright wrote, “I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of the hunger for life that gnaws in us all.” 

My students are feeling that gnawing sensation, the kind that makes you want to know more, to be more. The kind that makes you wonder if everything you have ever just swallowed should truly be what nourishes your mind. And it is in those moments that they connect the words on the pages to the words being written by their life outside the classroom that the lightbulbs go off and school ceases to be about memorizing useless facts and figures, but about something that connects to their daily experience–something that can help them reshape and redefine their existence.

So why then would I not want to help my students become the best readers they can? Why would I ignore the simple principle that to be a god reader, one must keep READING. So I give, untouched, each class those 25-30 minutes of independent reading.  I watch as my students lit up upon knowing that they were growing as readers, unlocking more potential than ever. And I think to myself that it was indeed a battle worth fighting, even if the battlefield seemed ridiculous.

I hope that as my students test this week and next that they will do their best. I know they will do their best. But more importantly, I know that they value, even if only just a little bit more, taking time out to read.

Promises of Return

“And if I have you, I’ll have everything. But without you, I am nothing.” 

The Easter season has always been one of my favorites. In terms of entire seasons, Christmas still wins for me, but for the actual holiday, Easter is my favorite. There is something that deeply roots me to the message of Easter, the story of the ultimate sacrifice. And to me, it also represents the ultimate promise. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to walk the earth with Christ, seeing the miracles performed and just being in his presence. But then, suddenly, just as soon as it all started, there he was on the cross. Like all great stories, this one had a critical climax and ending. Although, it wasn’t quite an ending. Jesus left with a promise that we would never be alone, that surely he would go with us throughout the ages. I feel him in my walk through life each day. The choices I make, the things I will and won’t do, are so I do not lose the chance at the promise to experience life beside him one day when he returns.

I love that. Simply put and stated. I have lived in many different places for my 25 years of life: Grenada, Indiana, New York, Massachusetts, Spain, Ghana, Florida, just to name the big ones. And after each journey I gather all the pieces of memories together in my heart–all the love from new friends and old friends and the warmth of atmospheres lived and lessons learned—and I close my eyes and make a promise that I will one day return. Sometimes I do, and others I’m still waiting to see. Other’s have ceased to be the places they once were to me, and others have taken on a larger-than life place in my heart. But even the most fervent of promises sometimes goes unkept in a life that moves me from one place to the next. So in my life of transiency, I treasure promises I know will be kept: God’s promise of return.

 

If You Come Softly, Part II

“And the rich between us shall drink our tears”

The most vivid instant message I can remember ever getting was senior year of college. It was the same year I thought that I could save someone from drowning and come back ashore unscathed. I was wrong, and I was marked, am marked by the tragedies of that year. On that night I remember receiving the message from my close friend pop up on my screen saying that he had come to the decision that life and living was not for him, and he was going to put an end to it, but he needed to know that I was going to be okay. Immediately I was frantically pulling on clothes and begging my roommate to come with me make sure that what I could never be okay with did not take place. My friend ended up being okay, and although there were rough patches on the road, he got the help he needed and the support he needed, and he made it. And I always tried to check in with him, remaining a listener and an observer on the journey.

I remembered this story because a student of mine came to me the other day and tried to come into class extremely late. I got annoyed and told her she would have to get another pass to get into class. The security guard brought her back, and I sighed and went outside to see what was wrong. She then told me she was in the bathroom sick all morning from the anxiety that has slowly started eating away at her daily routine this year. I instantly softened and asked her why she did not just say that to me. She replied, “I thought you would have gotten tired of me. Tired of my problems.” How could I ever grow tired of helping someone I love? But that’s what people think. They think their problems become the burdens of loved ones, without pausing to realize that the person’s love will lead them to want to be there for them in any way that they could.

Today I passed by the desk of one of my students who had written a suicide note that I had found in his homework assignment. It had been the day of my birthday dinner, and the starkest memory remains myself and that student standing on the steps of his home. I cried while I told him that I knew he was mad at me for telling others about this, but that I could live with that because if he were to hurt himself he would be hurting so many other people who loved him deeply. And today when I walked passed his desk I saw that he was reading a book: God’s Promise, for Every Day Life. I felt as though it was a sign for me and a sign from him as well.

I think he is going to be okay.

The Ingredients to Mutually Prevent Destruction

Again

I could feel the familiar mixture of

anger,

exasperation,

and sadness

at the slumped over head and shoulders,

conscientiously opting to twist the pen

between his relaxed fingers

instead of making them dance across the pages

of the bare and empty notebook pages.

I rest my hand on drooped shoulders

A split second thought to confront this

offense he deems as casual

But instead mark the encounter

with a verbal promise to address

the situation later.

And when the bell rings and

bodies shuffle toward the doorway,

stooped shoulders lethargically

gather themselves from their resting place

and make their way toward me.

“Ms. Younge?” he ventures in a tiny voice

that feels like it’s a million miles away

and begging for someone to help it return.

Eyes heavy with unshed tears flit quickly

toward my face and then away again.

Staring into the expanse of the room,

a slow, rattled breath is drawn in slowly.

And I simply wait.

“I guess…”

Take your time.

“I guess…”

You can tell me.

“I’ve been getting D’s and F’s for so long in reading

that I’ve convinced myself that I just can’t do it.”

Floored.

Breath forced out of me by a constricting chest

as my own eyes brim over with tears.

Had I become part of a cycle

that had broken down this young man?

Did the D’s and F’s from my class

Nail permanent marks of failure

onto the coffin of dead dreams of his life?

But all I could do for the moment was stand there,

thinking about how could I tell this student

that without HIM I would be lost.

There’d be no meaning to early mornings

and the way the heart can grow weary

with each days burdens brought on

by outside forces beyond my control,

or the struggles to just get some to understand

what it means for a child to have the gift

of reading and the rewards of knowledge.

That without his work, his effort, his dreams–

If he lost his will,

his belief that he can and will be better

I would have stopped convincing myself a long time ago

that all battles for my students were worth fighting.

 

I guess, too, that I would have stopped smiling–

 

But I can’t in this moment find the right words.

All that I could do was transcend the broken channel

of communication into action.

So I hugged him tightly to me.

And I told him that this year would be different,

that his grades were not a reflection of who

he was, but rather the effort he had convinced himself

so long ago was all he was capable of giving.

Though not a change I knew would happen overnight,

I hoped to plant the seed that if watered just right

Could formulate the right ingredients

to mutually prevent destruction.