Several times the last few weeks I’ve been struck with a kind of running-out-of-time panic while standing in front of students with pens in hands, phones in hands, laptops on desks, mostly paying attention and a few paying attention to look like they are paying attention.
I’m not sure what the sudden shock-dropping imperative is connected to my eye-welling realization that I have them for such a short time, and they will spend such a long time working beside people who have been told and treated like they are worthless more times than I can generously imagine.
There are other similar but less such moments of sudden shock when I’m trying to catch up with emails and trying to catch up with emails and trying to figure out what it means to operate between clients and communities and friends and students who expect me to tell them how to do it. I don’t really know how to do it, to be fair.
But I also know that my friends hear me either talk like I know what I’m doing or like I know I must figure out what I’m doing. I know the people I work with day to day believe that I am anticipating something worthwhile and valuable to come from the work, or at least I know I don’t have any other options even if what I’m doing doesn’t matter.
It’s those moments, though, where I’m on the floor or in my chair with a client as I remember (between my fears of taxes and the email I forgot to answer) that there are human beings waiting for someone to acknowledge that they are strong as hell. It’s those same moments where I see my students, pens and phones and laptops in hand (part attention, part facebook, part studying, part snapchatting), with their whole lives in the field in front of them.
And on Saturday nights when I should be doing something ridiculous and irresponsible and hilarious, I find myself happily grading their papers and praying that somehow, between my ridiculousness and their distractedness, that they hear me say the human beings in front of them in the world need someone. They need someone to look at them, to see them,to see the story behind their eyes that says they are bigger and badder and bolder than everything about them would suggest. To look at them and say they are waiting for the one person who might tell them truth about what they are made of instead of the lie of what they think they are supposed to be.
And I want my students to know that the person their clients are waiting on are the people in my classroom behind their awkward desks, pen, phone, laptop and all. And I want my students to remind me as I stand in front of them and get punched in the emotional jugular with the out-of-nowhere reminder that no matter what I am thinking about or dealing with, when I show up for work I am looking at a group students who have the power to change the hateful, xenophobic, racist, sexist, imperialistic and hateful world I wake up in and operate within every morning.
They deserve it: client and student.