(now playing: Ed Sheeran, “All of the Stars“)
In all of my classes, my students have begun brainstorming for their personal narratives. As I had written before, I’d asked them to write about a person who has inspired them, and their stories will depict a moment in which that occurred. While sharing my story about how I got to center stage in 7-5, I personally felt more inspired than ever. My students embraced my story and shared responses such as, “After hearing your stories, you remind me of her. The way you helped me and my friend sounds just like her” and, “I want to thank her for everything she did for you because now we have you” (they were so heartfelt that I could remember every word). It felt good to know that they understood the essence of Kathy, and hopefully that helped them begin the subconscious journey of embracing their inspirations.
It hadn’t occurred to me, however, that not all inspirations were positive.
Jenny (*pseudonym) is one of the sweetest and most talented teenagers I’ve ever met. She joined my class over half way through the year last year and astounded me at how fast she acclimated herself to school and how much she knew. I’m fortunate enough to have Jenny in class this year. While the class was brainstorming with a partner about who they’d like to write about, I could see the frustration in Jenny’s eyes. I knelt down in front of Jenny’s desk and tried to guide her to a person with whom she felt inspired. And then, the conversation turned.
I happened to say that the person who inspired you could have inspired you to be better than what they were. Within seconds, tears streamed down her face. She wouldn’t catch my gaze. I wanted to tell her that she could go to the bathroom, or leave the room, or get a tissue, or something; the words just couldn’t get out. So there I sat, looking at this beautiful young lady silently sobbing in my 5th period over something that I had said. After a few minutes, she turned to me, red in the eyes and face, and whispered, “I have someone in mind, but there are so many things that I’m not allowed to say and wouldn’t want anyone else to read them.” I reassured her that only my eyes would see her paper and that I want her to be both comfortable and proud of her work, so she is able to choose which parts of her life she would like to share.
The bell rang, and Jenny quickly grabbed her things and left. She came back during study hall to talk more about what was bothering her, but, just as I fought to release those words of comfort in class, she seemed to struggle with finding the right words to say what she was feeling. The easiest solution for her essay was for her to create a story of her own, and in speaking solely of her writing, I know that she will construct a story so eloquent that it will seem as if it were real. The untold story still weighs on me, presumably as much as it had on her during 5th period that day.
Even with the hardships that I had faced as a teenager, I’d have to say that I had a solid childhood and teen hood, and often, I forget that not everyone has been afforded that luxury in life. Jenny has faced something in her short, thirteen-year life that has scarred her in a way that it has defined inspiration for her: it inspires her to be better than the life she has or had.
I want to hug her. I want to tell her of how proud I am of the exceptional student that she is and the kind, smart, genuine young woman she is growing to be. I want to remind her that her past doesn’t define her and that it merely gives her a starting place for chapter one of her extraordinary journey. I want to share with her that our pasts leave scars, not anchors; they can’t hold us down because our presents have taken flight toward our bright futures.
I want Jenny to see herself the way that I see her, with a closed novel of a past and a blank page of a future.
– Ms. Sunshine