Monday, July 8, 2013

(Knock! Knock!) “Is anyone there?”... “I am.”

“…your life is filled with much confusion, until happiness is just an illusion…”

(Knock! Knock!) “Is anyone there?”... “I am.”
All too often, “the world is too much with us” as William Wordsworth would say. The news, social media updates and conversations with friends and family near and far stream into our viewing and listening arenas with words cloaked in sadness and emotions left unspoken.  This steady barrage of unhappiness can leave us so shell-shocked that we close our hearts and minds to the needs of those who inhabit our world.

Just yesterday, I learned that:

Children from poverty-stricken families would go hungry over the summer if charitable organizations didn’t bring them lunch (“In rural Tennessee, a new way to help hungry children: A bus turned bread truck.” The Washington Post, 7/7/2013).

An online teaching colleague lost a mentor and friend-a woman with a husband and an eight-month-old baby, in a horrific car crash.

A former student revealed that she is caught up in the quicksand of a bad choice romantic relationship, and,

My college roommate told me that her fifteen-year-old granddaughter had run away from home.

Life’s tragedies, humans’ inhumanity, and caverns echoing with the aftershocks of bad decisions-ours and others- will always be with us.  Those feelings of, “I am in this alone,” that emerge from these experiences, however, do not have to take center stage in our hearts and minds. They will, though, as long as we:

Forget to hear the pain, worry and distressing indecision behind the words of our husbands, wives, children, siblings, colleagues, co-workers, friends, neighbors and people we pass on the street because  we remain mired in the never-ending rush hours of our lives,

Drop oral conversations and written messages into figurative or literal Delete baskets instead of listening to stories about love, loss and heartbreak because they fall into the “Been there, heard that before,” category, or,

Encase our minds and hearts under invisible armor to protect these vital organs from any more scarring wounds that explode from life’s slingshot.

“Reach out for me. I'll be there… I will see you through.”

When I was still in the classroom, I spent much of my before and after school and lunch breaks  listening while students aired the joys, woes and stresses that filled their lives. The same scenario repeated itself over and over in my colleagues’ classrooms.  These teenagers didn’t want advice or to be judged.  They just wanted someone to listen, okay, and maybe offer one or two suggestions for dealing with their problems.
We didn’t question or complain about that aspect of our profession, although sometimes we did sigh as we turned our backs on the stack of papers we had to grade. Maybe a college education course entitled, Adolescent Angst and Anxiety-When and How to Listen exists now (if it doesn’t-it should), but it sure didn’t when I was studying to be a teacher.

Our common sense, our understanding about what student confidences we could keep, and our grasp about when we needed to contact parents, counselors or other authorities were the silent third party during these chats. Our students always knew these guidelines.

I still remember sixteen-year-old Joe who scoffed and said, “That man doesn’t care about anything except
stopping by on welfare day for my Mother’s check,” when I asked him if he had shared his fears about becoming pulled into misdemeanor activities that involved his friends with his father. And my heart still aches at the despair I saw in his eyes that he couldn’t quite hide behind his bravado. Sadly, many, many Joes have slid into chairs in my various classrooms in the 40+ years since I knew Joe.  Each one’s lonliness shredded my heart.

Ashleigh, a willowy ballerina cried as she talked about her weakness for sleeping with older men, and how she was tested monthly for aids. Her mother knew about her daughter’s risky trysts. During a conference with Ashleigh’s counselor, the mother shrugged and said, “I’ve explained the dangers to her, but it’s her choice. She’s eighteen.” Ashleigh and I discussed self-respect. I have always wondered if she ever embraced her self-worth.

Did we as a faculty discuss when, where and how to address the warning signs of a teenager ready to
(Knock! Knock!) “Is anyone there?”... “I am.”
fragment into drugs, alcohol or other perilous behavior? Did we see the unspoken cues of one preparing to run away from home? Not really. Our concerns usually fell into the “What would you do if…” lunch conversations in the teacher’s lounge-conversations everyone knew were based on realities and not hypothetical situations.   Times did exist, though-times that followed sleepless nights-when we did share our worries and fears about students with parents, counselors and principals. Sometimes they listened…sometimes they didn’t.

And from what my friends in the classroom tell me, that’s still the way. That needs to change. Before I settled into public school classrooms, I taught in an alternative school for kids who were failing in public educational systems but who fell between the cracks in regard to the avenues open to them that would help them succeed-personally and academically. While at this school, the students and their parents had to agree to a twice-monthly counseling group based on the premise that, “The child didn’t get to his point on his/her own.” What a totally admirable concept!

Oh, if only public schools had the inclination and the money to reach out and provide a similar program, just think about how that boy sitting all alone on that curb in front of the coffee shop, or that girl locked in her room listening to Adele’s Someone Like You over and over again would feel listened to and not like his or her “ has grown cold, and you’re drifting out all on your own.”

Maybe Federal and state guidelines should emphasize the value of self-respect over test proficiency ratings. Maybe when we tune into what’s bugging Johnny instead of analyzing why he can’t read as well as he should, he’ll be more willing and able to add a few pride pins to his academic success robe.  Maybe when students feel heard, they’ll hear the needs of their schools, their parents, their communities, and most importantly, themselves.

“I'll be there to love and comfort you, and I'll be there to cherish and care for you.”

When our children were still under our roof, my husband and I would listen when they chose to share the burdens that made them fall victim to insomnia or that pushed them to roll their eyes derisively when we asked what was behind their clouds of gloom and doom. We tried to listen with two open ears, anyway. Many a night I followed my daughter or son down to the kitchen when she/he decided that 12:47 was the best time to talk.

(Knock! Knock!) “Is anyone there?”... “I am.”
Considering the often overwhelming nature of raising kids, taking care of a home, working and finding time to take a few breaths, were we always emotionally available?  I think so…I hope so, anyway.  Are we now, even though they are well into adulthood? I’d like to think that we are…at least more times than not.
When my sisters, other family members or friends send me, “I need to talk to you; is now a good time?”  e-mails or phone calls, do I release the invisible umbilical cord that tethers me to my computer or to the latest novel I’m reading? Do I pick up the phone or tap out a response with a welcoming, “Hey, I was thinking about you”?

Do I take the time to nurture friendships, some as old as, Taffy, the stuffed bear I’ve had since I was five-years-old? Do I take the time to foster budding relationships instead of falling into the, “I will when I’m not so busy” excuse? Unfortunately, the answer to these questions is, “Not as often as I should.”


Sometimes I don’t because I know that the topic of discussion might anger, upset or worry me.

Sometimes I don’t because I am tapped out emotionally, spiritually, physically and logically.

Sometimes I don’t because, although I know these reasons are nothing more than excuses, I realize that I will be more ready to show sincere concern after I have had time to recover my compassion from my own cares and woes.

“Come on, reach out for me. Reach out, just look over your shoulder.  I'll be there to give you all the love you need, and I'll be there-you can always depend on me. I'll be there.”

During my own rush hour days, I sometimes wonder, “When someone I know and love is feeling, ‘The world is too much with me,’ will I take the time to reach out…to listen?”

During the traffic jams crowding my days, if anyone knocks on my door and asks, “Is anyone there? Can I depend on you?” will I answer, “I am, and you can”?
(Knock! Knock!) “Is anyone there?”... “I am.”

I hope so.

(Thanks to The Four Tops for writing such apropos lyrics in their song, I’ll Be There).

Until next week,

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