What is it our parents did or said that convinced us that we want to work in environments that challenge our souls, that seek us to look the depths of humanity in the face, to bear the load of the world and grit, hoping that we can make a difference? What is it that speaks deep inside of us of this hope... what makes it so loud that we can't blot it out, can't not listen for a while? My rommates upset me sometimes, because they can come home from their internships at the homeless shelter, the neighborhood clinic in one of the poorest areas of Chicago, and forget it... they can joke, and almost make fun of the people they were hlping two hours ago...
Meanwhile, I've been working three days a week (full days, 8-5) at [edited out] Elementary School in Uptown, a Chicago neighborhood about 15 minutes north of the Loop. It's an extremely diverse neighborhood and a very poor school... about 95 percent of the population is on free or reduced lunch. My third grade class has 20 students, 4 African, 11 African-American, 1 Caucasian, 3 Asian, and 1 Hispanic.
It's been an awesome experience... a lot of hands on experience and time to actually be in the classroom. I've already taught some. It's also a depressing experience. These kids are "at-risk". 8 of the 20 have IEPs, 6 receive some sort of special education. Only 4 live in a two-parent home, at least 6 have father figures that are incarcerated. Every single one has free/reduced lunch, and on any given day, you can count on 1/3 of the class having no pencil or a ½ inch stub. Two of my children live in shelters.
They are clearly disadvantaged, and it hurts, because what do I have to offer? My passion, my smile, my love, and a school that can't afford to provide them with pencils, an art room (just a cart that travels once a week), or a library with more than 200 books. I don't know what to do because I don't know how to address the issue, how to give them what they need: a fair chance at life. It isn't their fault, and they're caught in a vicious cycle that started before their time and before their parents' time. Before my time, but that doesn't mean I can't be a part in the solution. I wish I felt like my actions were more active than they are. I'm there, I tutor after school, and every day reminds me that I want to be there even more. But it's grueling.
It's hard to avoid the cynicism, difficult to be continually accepting my role in their problem, always opening my eyes and trying to understand their lives and their positions. I want to be realistic, but I don't want to lose my hope, me certainty that I can do something, that I can be different. I don't want to act out of pity, an imagined guilt, but I don't want a role in the play that is our world. I want to change it, and I refuse to give up that hope that I can.
It's interesting, because I just finished Eldridge Cleaver's Soul on Ice, and it's kind of given me a different lens to look through. He has an incredible message of hope buried deep in his anger, and he expresses it so beautifully. I read his anger, his pain, and I want to cry... I see it when I look at my kids, when I hear their words, but I want to wish them all the hope I find in his pain. I want to love them until they aren't bitter... I want to stop the world in its tracks and demand that someone counts these children as children, not a future problem. I want to bang down every door of every person with means and beg them to give these children the chance that they deserve, to give them the means to become... beings. I want to change the world, but I'm just one, and despite all the quotes about how it only takes one, the world seems formidable, and I feel so small...
"And why does it make you sad to see how everything hangs by such thin and whimsical threads? Because you're a dreamer, an incredible dreamer, with a tiny spark hidden somewhere inside you which cannot die, which even you cannot kill or quench and which tortures you horribly because all the odds are against its continual burning. In the midst of the foulest decay and putrid savagery, this spark speaks to you of beauty, of human warmth and kindness, of goodness, of greatness, of heroism, of martyrdom, and it speaks to you of love." (from Soul on Ice)
It sounds depressing, and it is, but I know that's why I'm here.. sometimes I just wonder what it is they did that made me think that... I don't feel like I have a debt to humanity, but more that I have a role, a purpose, and that part of that is giving anything I have to give... expecting fully that someone else would do the same for me. Does that make me naive, stupid? I'd rather have my trust and give it than sit in a world of bitterness and suspicion, and not feel the dichotomy of pain and love that I feel when I look at L, K... the rest. The world is full of hope and I know it.
My sister has the kind of passion and fire within her that makes a change. She has the kind of love within her that hurts when it happens, and a need to create peace and give of herself. She said it and I'll say it again, because her words are so achingly familiar to me - what is it our parents did or said?
I want to know, O Best Beloved. It is not that long before I'm looking at children of my own, no more than five or six years most likely. And I want them to grow up with that kind of love and that kind of passion. And I pray that when the time comes, that God will put the right words in my mouth and show me the right paths to go.
My family is strange - I don't talk about it much here, not the family I grew up in - but as those who've heard me do so know, it has its problems and its issues. And I can't close my eyes to what's broken there, either, but I can't see how to mend it. Maybe sometime I'll talk about that.
But for now, O Best Beloved, I'm going to go take a shower and find some clothes to wear today, and then I'm going to see if I can get something done before I have to leave in a few hours. I wonder what today will bring.