My final grades are finally in for the university. The proctoring is done, the exams graded, and now I’m actually planning for the next term so that I can really have a full week (or two! … miracle of miracles…) off without the impending spring term looming behind me. Things are winding down and up in that excitement of holidays, changed routines, special foods, special rituals… all of the excitement that usually leaves me secretly looking forward to the relief of January.
Last year, at this time, I was struggling to fight through walking pneumonia. It was brought on by a combination of a sulpha drug for an infected spider bite with an overload of stress from work. I was exhausted. Drained. Sick. December was overcharged with everything.
This year, I feel happy in a way that is quiet, that makes me think of my feet pressing solidly into the ground.
I make less money right now than I ever have as a post-graduate adult, but I have more independence than I have ever had. I have an incredible boss who is kind and fair, and he listens to what his teachers have to say. REALLY listens. He listens to the students, too. Heck — he actually KNOWS all of the students in his program. I am grateful for a job where the only time I feel stressed is simply because I’m tutoring so much that I’m tired. I don’t feel resentment. I don’t go to bed angry every night because of what’s happening at work.
The students that I tutor have become my little community here, and I love working with them. It is a gift to be able to work one on one with another person at any age… to have this time where we dedicate our energies to learning together.
All of this gratitude feels incongruous with the outrage that I feel about the Sandy Hook shooting. I’ve been pretty vocal about my opinions on Facebook, and I don’t really feel like opening up the whole debate here. What I do want to say, though, is that we have a problem in our values when a high school of 3000+ high-poverty students has only 1 social worker yet has an in-school police station staffed with more than 2 police officers. NCLB babbled on and on about “back to basics” and cut art, music, even recess… but the “basics” of food, shelter, and health are not being met.
We have to change the mentality of this society as a whole to one where everyone cares about everyone having enough, not just “I have more than I need and you don’t need as much as I do.” This has to be a community-driven initiative. No more blaming the parents, no more abandoning of responsibility by scapegoating “choice.” One can only have the right to choose when one has access to different options. If the access isn’t there, then what choice is there? I don’t understand why every school can’t have a fully-staffed community health clinic, dental clinic, and counseling service. Sure, the parents can choose which services the kid receives, but the parents can also rely on the teachers and the community that revolves around the school to support them as a family and to support the health and well-being of their children.
The phrase that keeps running through my mind in this past week is “Lean In.” On Friday, before I had heard about the shootings, the kids that I tutor were so excited about learning about the American coins which I had scattered on the library table that they literally leaned in to manipulate the coins. Their elbows pushed against each other in excitement to participate, and they stopped looking at the clock, stopped thinking about when were they going to get to use the computers… and they were completely present, completely focused and engaged.
I think that’s what we have to do. On a personal level, I feel like I have had to learn to slow down, to make choices that involved big changes and a lack of certain securities that I was used to (more disposable income, health insurance…), and to lean in towards what really drives me everyday — my love of connecting with people and learning together.
As a society, we cannot step back and hold our hands up helplessly in a gesture of “What could we have done? What can we do?” We must lean in towards each other to discuss and to listen. We must slow down to do this, to look carefully at the facts that we have, and to find solutions that will be the root of a safe and sustainable future for everyone in this society.