Category Archives: what students are teaching me

an open letter to my students

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An Open Letter to My Students on the Eve of the Orlando Shooting.

June 12, 2016

Dear Students,

You likely woke up today as I did: late. You may or may not have turned on the news as is my morning wake-up custom, coffee in hand and multiple snoozes later. Within moments it became clear that there was yet another mass shooting while we were sleeping. This morning’s shooting at a gay night club in Orlando. Over 100 dead and injured.

I remember thinking ‘My soon-to-be godson is to be baptized today. My responsibilities seem yet-again larger now.’

I’m late to the service by a few minutes this morning; I know you’re not surprised. I stood too long at the television in my bedroom, clenching the wooden ledge on top of the dresser left in the room by my great, great-aunts who were the unusual of their era; they were highly educated, remarkably fashionable, and unusually independent women from a time where that was not allowed. No doubt they were recipients of both celebration and judgment. The dresser left in the bedroom of this house they used which I now sleep in has new fingernail marks as of this morning, left accidentally as I should have been dressing for a baptismal service but was instead being washed again in the blood of others.

“I also remember this, and wish I did not,” as Didion once said. I remember that I was not surprised.

Yet another killing, this time the largest mass shooting in our states’ history and the largest terrorist attack on US soil since my freshmen year of college when I sat in a lecture hall of Blanchard at Wheaton and watched the towers fall before my eyes.

I remember this morning thinking that I was surprised that morning as an 18-year-old hopeful, but that I am not surprised now as a 32-year-old hopeful. And it is the hopefulness of my better wiring which has been wanting to talk to all of you all day long today, even though you’ve managed to sneak away from me for the summer. I’ve managed to talk to you in one of our random, side conversations all day long in my head regardless. Then I decided that I hope you might hear it.

Many of you value your faith deeply; I do as well. Because of this, those who believe differently from you are owed your love and honor. The faith you claim has told you so; the faith leaders you are bothered by have challenged this. Follow your faith.

Many of you think
public policy,
issues of social policy and social welfare,
wealth and poverty,
emails to your governors and senators and representatives
(unanswered as most of them go…which you will remember),
childhood development and influence,
family structure and complexity,
group norms and roles,
mob mentalities and social capacities,
and research formulas and findings
aren’t connected in any real way
to your deep desire to help those who are in need.

The crimes of today should remind you that these things are all connected.

The language and now law signed in by Governor Bill Haslam in Tennessee that allow therapists to legally hate and discriminate by refusing counseling to those of the LGBTQ community affected by today’s mass shooting is an issue of policy, welfare, wealth and poverty, legislators who listen and those who ignore (and are paid to do so, which you will remember), legislation and its [silent] funders, biological development and its influences, structure, complexity, norms, roles, mob mentalities and social capacities, research and its findings…

This language and this legislation and these legislators and these voices are the authors of the men and women who will come into your offices and onto your caseloads wounded, orphans of those killed by this morning’s violence, orphans of those who had parents who lived lives of silence or submission to a norm, or stood silently in the back of your sanctuaries on mornings like these as you went to church and thought it was a regular Sunday morning.

I felt the need all day long today, now pushing the clock to make it honest, to let you know that I expect the world of you.

I am pretty sure I have told you this. You will be the best.

I expect a whole other kind of world from you. I expect you to wake up on days like today with the news of the moment and the heart of a saint that is both willing to break the rules and willing to break the norms to dig your fingernails into the wooden ledge on top of the dresser and be late for something planned and appropriate because you decided you had to stand up and speak out for something possibly inappropriate because it puts all of our humanity at risk.

So in class, when I hound you and harass you and rap at you and sing at you and yell at you and take points from you and even when I feed you in an effort to buy you, please know this: I do all these things so that some day, some Sunday morning when someone is waking up and committing to go to church and pledge gratefully to be a godfather for a young man or young woman who has not yet learned to distrust the world…

I do all these things so that you will remember that it will never be okay for us to not be surprised at this kind of hateful news that greeted us this morning.

I’m counting on you.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

 

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students and clients

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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. mosthopeful.quote.otis-moss.3.19.16

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.

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djordan
Pine Tree

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