Tomorrow I know that I will walk into a Waffle House I’ve never been to and eat alone in the company of other people who have nowhere to be on Christmas.
I know what I’ll order. I know that I’ll feel guilty for eating there when the waitresses have families at home. I know I’ll leave a big tip while I think about my younger sister who works at a Waffle House 400 miles away to pay for college. I know I’ll eat my greasy hash browns and feel all at once sad and satisfied. This is my life and most of the time I’m okay with it.
I like hash browns. I like being alone. I would say, despite my Christmas tradition, that my life is full of people who love me and want to spend time with me. I know this much is true.
Do the people who are supposed to love me always have it in them to show me they love me and want to spend time with me? No. Am I okay with that? Most of the time.
Right now is one of those times I’m not okay with it. What events, significant only to me and completely blown out of proportion, that brought me to the crossroads of either continuing to cry myself to sleep or writing this post are not worth mentioning.
What might be is that what I wish someone would say to me right now is exactly what I wish I could say to my 34 5th grade students each day they walk into my classroom:
You have a place here.
You don’t have to earn it. You don’t have to ask for it. You don’t have to fight for it.
You have a place here that is permanent. It is genuine. It is safe. It is offered because you are wonderful and not because you are a charity case. It is yours and no one is going to take it away from you.
You have a place here because you deserve it. You have a place here because you are worthy. You have a place here because you are valuable.
You have a place here because I love you.
I want to say these things because I see that my kids suffer from poverty beyond being hungry. They suffer from a poverty of being unloved. They suffer from a poverty of being unknown in a town that no one cares about, that no one appreciates, that no one from the outside values.
I do not understand the depths to which my students experience these poverties. All I understand from the tiniest bit of poverty I’ve tasted is that there is a deep aloneness to feeling disposable and unwanted. There is a powerful isolation in feeling like no one cares to know you. As I feel that powerful isolation sinking inside of me now, what I wish someone would say to me is exactly what I wish I could say to my 34 5th grade students each day they walk into my classroom:
I know you.
I want to know you.
I know your horse’s name is Carolina. I know your mom whips you when you bring home Bs. I know your bus stop is on Pecan Street. I know that you love hot chips but hate the color green. I know you are ashamed of your house but proud of your basketball skills.
I know why you are hurt and sometimes unwilling. I know why you are terrified and lazy but so honorable. I know why you are amazing and unaware and stunted and capable all at the same time.
I know these things because I care enough about you to see them.
The things I want to tell them come bursting out of my heart when I think of the freedom I had to come to this town. It was the freedom to do whatever I wanted, to go wherever I chose. It was the freedom granted by having few care about you but also no one to control you. It allowed me to meet these 34 tiny souls. And as much as I hated it, as much as I often resent it, this freedom lets me be fully here in this sad but beautiful place. That freedom brings me to meet my students in a way I’m not sure I could’ve without the, sometimes painful, freedom of being untethered. That freedom lets my body, heart, and soul exclaim that if this is where my feet are than I must be home.
That freedom begs that I explain to my 34 5th grade students:
I am desperate to take up space in this world just like you.
I know why you are so desperate for my love because I feel the same way.
Fully recognizing that my dramatic vision of the world and those around me and my overly sensitive nature makes everything I’ve just said and written ridiculous, I believe it. I believe it in a way that goes deep and rests in my bones. I know this much is true.
I’ve often felt that no one in the world loves me more than me. I’ve concluded more than once that no one truly knows me. I’ve cried over deciding that I had no real home or family. I don’t like those things about myself and I don’t know how to measure or defend their truth, but I know that the realities of these things in my own world profoundly shapes my desire to love my students in a way that changes their inner dialogue to chant the beauty of the good… I have a place here. I am known. I am valuable. I am worthy. I am loved.
I desperately want these things to be true.