The last student walked out of my room and left the classroom empty of people and noise. Both things that had become balms to my hurting heart. Noise not ice cream had become the thing that I had tried to "fill up" my life with since the unexpected and devastating break up with my fiance. Noise and my desire for companionship drove me to play countless episodes of "Alias" and "24" until I fell asleep at night. Music and morning talk shows were what I blasted from the first moment of rising each morning keeping me "company" in the early hours of my day and taught me more pop culture than I had ever known in my life.
The need for noise and community drove me to throw myself into my teaching career as never before. I arrived at the school at 6 am most morning and left approximately 13 to 18 hours later. So far, outside of my family and best friends, no one seemed to notice or care. I was avoided adults who weren't close friends - as if I was going to "pass on" the "break up with your fiance" card to someone else. Most of the adults that I worked with seemed unsure of what to say. In that came lots of stilted conversations and lots of awkward silence (well along with the delightful suggestions of trying e-harmony where I was told that "there boys are ready to commit". What I wanted and what my heart desperately needed was for someone to care enough to say they were sorry. I longed for someone to see beyond the broken shell of a person and to simply care. At the time I don't think that most of my co-workers (outside of dear, dear
co-workers friends - thank you Kaara & Paul *smiles*) could or were able to give what I needed ~ which was to see love acted out in human form.
This unspoken prayer request was about to come in the most unsuspecting answer: through my students.
Needing contact with someone I wandered down the hallway and greeted students who (unlike the adults) did not avoid me but stepped toward me and met my pain to embrace me to give me thousands of hugs. As the bell rang and the halls emptied I made my way down to the 3rd floor student (senior) lounge which had these big windows that overlooked the soccer field. As I settled into a chair I surveyed the still winter outside and ironically thought about how similar this was to my life. As I sat pondering life I didn't hear "P", one of my senior students come in and settle in beside me on a chair. As it dawned on me that he was there I felt the teacher side of me kick in and looked for something "brilliant" to say. Except nothing came out. I was dimly aware that the holidays must have been just as difficult for "P" as they were for me due to some family situations but could think of nothing to say.
"This view is amazing. I never get tired of it." I heard P say. I replied something of an agreement and then sighed. "How was your holiday, Ms. V"? He asked.
"Short." I replied- my voice laced with frustration and sadness. I had only been back in Maryland for three days and it had seemed like years.
"Ms. V -" I turned to look at him as I realized he was hesitating. "Ms. V" - he said again... "I am so sorry. " As I glanced away and then back at the young man sitting beside me I realized that my cheeks were wet with silent tears.
"Thank you." I whispered. For the first time someone outside my family and best friends had acknowledged the pain I was going through. Not in a way of making it better but with four simple words that acknowledged the deep hurt I was feeling and gave me room to grieve. Four words that were uttered from someone who had done nothing to cause the pain but instead choose to get involved in my pain. I whispered a quiet thank you again and "P" stayed quiet. I am not sure how long we sat there that day before the bell rang but I do remember the feeling of God's presence filling that room because a senior decided to look outside of themselves and reach out to their teacher whose life had been seemingly shattered. Its ironic because in many ways nothing changed that day but in other ways everything changed. The need for noise to numb the pain was gone and within it was replaced a desire for God's voice to fill those crevices.
We as Christians can do a horrible job of helping someone through grief and pain. We have a million solutions for that person, a hundred Bible verses that we can offer and usually some great "sayings" that are all of little help in the moment.
It has been four years and those students are about to become college graduates and will change (and have already started to change) their worlds. It has been four years, and yet I am reminded of that year often with humble gratitude. Often times all we need is someone to come along side us and sit with us and simply say "I am so sorry". It might seem like it is not enough but trust me - it can change everything.
The minute you choose to extend grace and kindness to another hurting human being God can do miraculous things. As time went on there were countless ways that love was physically expressed by this senior class. At a time that could have been one of the most (understandably) selfish times in their lives these seniors adopted me and truly poured love into my life. There were hundreds of letters of encouragement, students who convinced me to take up running after school even though I called them "Stalin" (sorry sunshine!),notes left on my desk, notes left in books, notes left on my car, CD's made that were filled with uplifting music, DVD's given, a lovely lady that called be "beautiful" when I looked anything but that, food brought into school, invitations to eat lunch with them so that I never ate alone, many jokes and practical pranks played that brought laughter, Starbucks gift cards, money towards a new car when my car died and broke down, invitations to weekend outings (including Valentine's Day) and hundreds and hundreds of Dutch Blitz card games simply because I expressed how muck I liked it. Whether it was a conspiracy or a simple plan to care these simple yet precious acts of love brought sunshine and healing to my broken heart.
In what could have been the worst year of my life I truly only remember with a fond and humbled smile. The thing that brought me so much pain was the backdrop for a beautiful time of my life. And it all started with the simple and yet powerful words of "I'm sorry".