One year ago the early dark of winter days fell hard against the light in my life. The further I get away from it, the less I know what was happening. I was five months in to my first experience living overseas, and pretending to direct a school that ran in Arabic and looked a bit like a WWE-franchised tutoring center. We have all stood between a lot of angry kiddos, and I've learned more than I ever thought possible through this methodology.
Yesterday, after a good-hearted game of football (soccer) played by kids ages ten to eighteen*, a student passed the ball with me as we walked back toward the building. He crossed the threshold of the school, wiped off his shoes on the rug and said, next I have math and plodded off to class.
This student has bitten me more than any other student**, punched me most inappropriately a handful of times, thrown rocks in my direction, jabbed a paring knife at me, kicked my car, beat me at chess, and caused me to rethink life through other means. He has also written me notes to tell me at length how much he loves me and is thankful for me working with the school. Yesterday he laughed the laugh of a child. He spoke steady and satisfied about his next class and seemed happy to go.
Maybe parents grow used to these roller coasters. I am not, yet at least. If you told me the ideal dance between the who and what of a person was a salsa, one year ago I would have to pull myself from my own mosh pit some days just to hear you. What did I say? How did I let that thought take shape in my mouth? Why do I have so much trash in my car? These are questions I still ask.
The other day, another boy who has had a great year so far hit a girl. She hit him back. I think she said something about his mother and he could not take it. We suspended him for a day and a half. It was wrong to do. We also know the grip of his fist draws from a deeper well than a passing family comment. We suspended her as well. The conversation mostly sounded like, come on.
I wonder if behind most of this behavior is someone looking back out at the world saying you can’t do this to me – And don’t do it again. Because watch what I do. Another student has said sometimes I get so angry I can’t even think.
But the world outside does not listen to this, we say. This jab, these mean words will be said to you. And you must learn how to hold your fist at your side and walk away. The world loves the story of the youth from unlikely circumstances who becomes famous and successful. We do not hear about the ones who got in the fight that landed them in jail or worse. At least we do not know them by name. Keep it together. كرمالك - Kermelak - For your sake. Come back Monday and try it again.
He shook as we talked. I just wanted to hug him. How long had he held it together before that moment? What internal trials had he overcome that will never be mentioned?
As a school community, we have made many improvements since one year ago. The students and I have settled into a rhythm with the school day. We know each other better. The increased structure and sheer busyness facilitate an ease of mind. However, we are still in this fight. One against the past for the sake of the future. One against the early dark of these days. One to mellow that inner dance into something with a little more sway.
*In case you were wondering the ten year-old stole the ball from the eighteen year-old a handful of times, mostly by throwing himself in harm’s way and moving forward.
**yes, there are others, plural. I have switched my deodorant to some effect.