Hope, Suffering and Acknowledging We’re the Same Species

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Sometimes it feels like my students and I are different species, separated by a secret evolution that occurs only in college. They can’t drive cars yet. They care immensely what people think of them. They have braces and think truly absurd videos are hysterical. They are fourteen year olds who act like fourteen year olds. They are totally foreign creatures.

This semester, though, relationships that began last semester are deepening. The girls who used to mostly talk to me about assignments now mostly talk to me about their lives, and in some ways, it’s shocking. I wince to recognize that my students- MY students! who giggle at double entendres and eat too many cookies at lunch- have questions about god, hope, despair, meaning, suffering and relationships, the very things I had questions about when I was a teenager and, honestly, still have today.

We are, despite the discrepancy in our aptitude for selfies, members of the same species and therefore united not only by the things that bring us joy but also the things that bring us suffering. My students are capable of feeling wounds that no sequined homecoming dress can cover up, and some of them face real adult problems on a scale much grander than the in-class essay I assigned this week.

It is hard to acknowledge that my girls who laugh so innocently at my terrible dance moves are growing up, and quickly, into a world that is sometimes hard to navigate. Harder still, to admit that I may have the answer to the difference between a simile and a metaphor but I don’t have the answer to some of life’s most persistent questions.

It is tough! But my favorite moments now as a teacher, the ones that feel the most authentic and important, are the moments when I acknowledge that I am a growing human being in a room full of growing human beings, and my hands will never be big enough for all the pain I want to heal. I can’t shield my students from the confusion, heartache and drudgery that sometimes life brings, but I can share with them the joy in today.

I can create cause to celebrate. I can be as liberal with compliments as Al Gore is in politics. I can model confidence and hope that they try it on for size, too. Most of all, I can walk alongside them, making sure that they know we are not foreign creatures but familial beings. We are in this together. The road has bumps, but they have my hand if they want it. And despite the pitfalls and the problems, the in-class essays and the tiny exacerbations, we are led by the best light of all: hope. I hope so much for them.

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