Monday, April 22, 2013

Last week

I know everyone’s been writing about this and talking about it for the past week. And I know you’re probably terribly tired of it by this point. So don’t worry, I won’t resent you if you stop reading now. But I guess I need this to be part of my healing process.
Last Monday I went to the Boston Marathon for the first time in years. I think the last time was when I went to see my elementary school teacher run in it. But every other year for my whole life I’ve watched it on TV. After all, when you grow up in Massachusetts, it’s a beloved tradition. Every year you hear about the inspirational stories, hear the stories of great marathons past, make bets on whether the winner will be from Kenya or Ethiopia, and laugh at the funny costumes. We even refer to the holiday of Patriot’s Day as “Marathon Monday.” My college didn’t give us the day off, and I’d always grumble about having to be in class when I ought to have been watching the marathon. This year I decided it was high time I go watch in person, and I recruited a friend to come with me.
We went to Kenmore Square, a mile from the finish line, beginning the morning by sharing a doughnut (because let’s face it, there’s nothing like watching other people exercise to make you want to eat junk food. Especially Dunkie’s). For the next few hours we clapped and cheered for the elite athletes and ordinary folks. Whenever someone struggled to keep going, everyone started telling them, “You can do it! Keep running!” and whooped when they started picking up those feet again. When one man started swaying, on the verge of passing out, and fellow runner crossed over and put an arm around him, walking the man over to a police officer to get help. And yes, there were some great costumes—fairies, a bumblebee, superheroes, etc. The day was a great celebration, as it was always meant to be, and it was bringing out the best in people.
We left at 1:30, after being there since 10. After a little stop in Park Street (yes, to visit Brattle Bookshop….couldn’t help myself), I headed for my home outside the city. Soon after I got back, the friend I’d spent the day with texted me about the explosion at the finish line. I hurriedly turned on the TV, horrified.
When it was becoming clear that these were attacks, I became increasingly upset. I spent the next two days watching the news, crying, and checking in with friends and family so we could all make sure everyone was okay. And then on Friday, the horror hit again with full force. I was completely shaken up, and I felt violated. How could someone do this? At an event so dear to my heart? On a street I’ve walked down a thousand times in the city that I love? To people who were doing just what I’d been doing that same day?
I don’t need to relive for you all of the events of that week. But I am grateful that it was school vacation and I was able to spend time with some people that I love who helped me work through my emotions and anxiety, then distracted me with talk of all the good and wonderful things in this life. And I am extraordinarily proud of the way the good people of Massachusetts responded to the horrific events. From running after the finish line to the hospital to give blood, to opening up their homes to the stranded, to running towards the blast to help the injured, to pledging to not let this incident scare them away next year, the bravery and kindness shown was beautiful.
As we move forward, I hope that the lessons learned don’t fade quickly, as they often seem wont to do. And I hope that people do not condemn an entire religion for the acts of a couple individuals. This was something I had thankfully been addressing with my sophomores the week before vacation as they began reading The Kite Runner, and I hope they kept it in mind. I hope that they keep asking me questions so that we can openly discuss our fears and prevent ourselves from giving into them. One of the powers of literature is that it can allow us see ourselves in others, and can help ease our fear and mistrust of that which we previously did not understand. And I hope that Boston, and all those affected both directly and indirectly, can begin to heal together.


WBUR posted this article on their website. It discusses why we so often feel the need to write about our connections to traumatic events. Many thanks to Ms. K for showing me this!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Learning to think before you speak

I love it when kids surprise me with moments of real maturity. Last week, one such moment came out of a much uglier moment. One kid drew on another's face with marker, and the young man who was the canvas responded by swearing and calling the kid a "faggot." Now, I've made it quite clear to my students that I will not tolerate derogatory language, and discussed with them how such words are not only offensive, but can also be very hurtful without them even realizing it. Both boys were sent to the office, and I told them the next day that they'd have to serve a detention with me.

The following morning, I came into school and found a letter in my mailbox from the boy whose language got him into trouble. It was a very nice apology letter, and he maturely acknowledged that what he said was wrong and took responsibility for it. He explained that he'd been so upset because he had a job interview later that day and was afraid that the marker wouldn't come out, but said he knew this was not a good excuse. Here are some excerpts from the letter:
"I just hope you know it was not intended to disrespect anybody, I just allowed my anger to get the better of me, and I'm really, really, really disappointed in myself for allowing those words to come out of my mouth. Because not only did I make people uncomfortable by saying that, I lowered myself down to something I never wanted to....I want you to know I'm sorry and had no intent to disrespect the gay community by my use of vocabulary by any means. I was just stupid and didn't think of others before I reacted. I feel ashamed of myself because I know what I said could affect somebody. And I hope you know that's not the kind of person I am. This has taught me a lot and I know I will always remember to think before I speak."

I pulled him aside that day and told him how much I appreciated his words and that he took the time to really reflect on what he'd done. He could have just simply served his detention (which he'll still do) and let that be it, but it took maturity to admit he was in the wrong and to show a true understanding of WHY. I love these moments, because teaching is really about so much more than just making the students better readers and writers; we also want them to become good, consciencious, compassionate citizens. This young man took a good step in that direction, and I hope that he really does keep this lesson in mind.