18 April 2013


When I was a freshman in high school, I remember walking into choir one day and hearing rumors about one of the cheerleaders.

"I hear she's suspended," one person said, pointing to her empty seat.

"No she's not," another student nearby piped in, shaking her head with an all-knowing scowl.  "She's pregnant.  She's going to that special school."

Pregnant?  "Well!", I thought, "I wouldn't put it past the girl."  She'd always been a bit of a pain to work with from my estimation.  Didn't seem that bright.  Didn't seem that put together.  Of course she'd managed to wind up somewhere stupid.

Fast forward a few months.  I'm on an overnight trip with my show choir and there's a girl vomiting.  As a certified, life long member of the emetophobia society, I'm freaking out.  I'm steering clear.  "I don't want to get sick!" I say to another choir member.  "I'm washing my hands like crazy."

"She's not sick," my friend tells me.  "She's hung over.  Don't feel sorry for her."

I didn't.  I was furious.  How could she be so stupid?  She totally deserved what she got.  Hung over and whining about it?  What a moron.

When I was a teenager I had a decently simplistic view of bad things happening to people.  I wasn't quite so extreme as Miss Prism from The Importance of Being Earnest who claimed that the good end happily and the bad unhappily ("that is what fiction means!").  I knew from my own life that bad things happened to good people.  No one is immune.  Some people were stupid and brought troubles upon themselves more often and more readily than others, but that was their fault.  Some people just had rotten obstacles to overcome and that was just a testament to God working in mysterious ways. . . whatever that meant.

To be honest with you, the justice in the universe hasn't ever really eaten at me as much in my life as it has this year.  I can study Holocaust literature and, perhaps horribly enough, find the poetry in the story that God is weaving in his universe.  Sure, the Holocaust was horrible; but how wonderful that the world now has so many examples of the triumph of the human spirit in the face of incredible odds, right?  Isn't that a blessing?  It's so easy for me to write off the crap of the world as just another step on the hero's journey.

But it's getting harder.

This year has been, more than any other, full of inexplicable injustices on people around me that I know and love.  It's been an especially hard year for some of my students.  I've seen so many of them struggle with illnesses and family drama and friendships that aren't easy any more.  I've seen them given challenges that adults would crumble under.  That I would crumble under.  It's breaking my heart to watch.  The world is in front of them and so full of possibilities.  Or it should be.  "Why is this happening to me?" one student said, looking completely exasperated.  "I'm going places with my life.  I have plans.  I am smart.  Shouldn't this be happening to someone who is destined to a life of flipping burgers?!"

Yes.  Yes it should.

To have students come into my office seeking refuge, understanding, help, a listening ear - I feel completely unprepared and unqualified to offer anything.  Every time I open my mouth to try and offer whatever advice I can I feel young and inexperienced and completely moronic.  What do I, with my healthy, safe, convenient life know about helping them with their struggles?  With my family that is whole, with my finances that are secure, with my job that I didn't even apply for?  How can I help?  Everything comes out so trite and pithy and easy.

But I can't turn them away.  I can't pass them off to some counselor.  Because, somehow - and I'm not entirely sure how this happened - they learned to trust me, and I can't give that up.  I can't break that. I owe it to them.

They don't prepare you for this in school.  They don't talk about this on the stupid state test I had to take to upgrade my license.  They'll warn you a little about how you'll love your students and want to do anything for them.  They don't warn you at all about how they'll worm their way into your own dreams and heartaches.  How their successes and failures will hit you too.  How an uncertain future for those who deserve so, so much more will make you wish that you had done more with your own life and question the judgment of God.  I heard all these stories about your biological children.  But what about the other ones?

In Memorium 55 - Tennyson

The wish, that of the living whole
No life may fail beyond the grave,
Derives it not from what we have
The likest God within the soul?

Are God and Nature then at strife, 
That Nature lends such evil drams?
So careful of the type she seems,
So careless of the single life,

That I, considering everywhere
Her secret meaning in her deeds, 
And finding that of fifty seeds
She often brings but one to bear,

I falter where I firmly trod,
And falling with my weight of cares
Upon the great world's altar-stairs
That slope through darkness up to God,

I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,
And gather dust and chaff, and call
To what I feel is Lord of all,
And faintly trust to larger hope.


Katherine said...

beautiful, Joni :)

Nae said...

Agreed. This is beautiful.