It’s the stories that I can’t tell that keep me up at night and flash like neon lights to awaken me before the dawn. These are the stories of the children who’s families of origin have (for any number of reasons) failed them, the children for whom our social safety net isn’t safe, the children for whom charity burns in the absence of justice. Their hearts are pure but their brains have been filled with too many chemicals, too much hate, and too many lies. They stand in line with blank stares or they bounce out of line with fists bared or they beg for praise to fill a void that can never be filled. These are the children with whom I will spend my Friday.
What I love about this group of children is their embodied reminder that, despite our assumptions and underneath our judgments, we are all the same. We come in different sizes and shapes and colors and backgrounds, but every one of us is hungry in the morning, every one of us is looking for a place to belong, every one of us has anxiety about the dentist (yesterday’s learning!), and every one of us has breath… breath that connects us with life beyond our own, power larger than ourselves, hope.
In the steady stream of adults, staff and volunteer, who move in and out of their lives each day, the children are really pretty unmoved by new faces and I’ve slipped into the routine pretty much under the radar. So in this din of sound and emotion, I was taken with the children’s tone when they heard that Miss Nancy was coming to visit. There was a sense of awe that surpassed excitement. Miss Nancy comes weekly, just because. She brings interesting foods to taste, stories to share, and experiments to try. More important than the bags she brings, however, is the smile. Miss Nancy’s smile is genuine and grows with each interaction. Her smile is infectious and shared by children and staff alike. After an hour of treasured Miss Nancy time, with the children in rapt attention for an unspeakably long period of time, we had all encountered the healing power of compassion.
To be sure there is an inevitable sense of powerlessness that is as heavy as the sorrow. Yet as the children rush to correct each other, I hear myself reminding them that we can only fix our own problems. So for today I will try to stay on my side of the street because it is from where I stand that can find the roots of compassion worthy for this day.
Today is Friday and as I sit at my keyboard holding the stories heavy in my heart, I feel gratitude for this place in life. Gratitude for the opportunity to sit on the floor with a child and look at letters, gratitude for a chance to talk about place values with a classroom of children momentarily engaged, gratitude most of all for the genuine smiles received and shared this week.