I have been doing the typing/deleting/retyping dance for hours now. Everything is coming up bitter. Super sarcastic. And not the fun or funny variety of sarcasm. Nah, it’s the nasty, mean-spirited, biting kind that makes me grimace and shudder. Usually this is my cue to stop struggling and shut this shit down. Go to sleep. Maybe try again tomorrow. Only tonight, as I was about to power off, I thought of an old post.
I wrote the following on November 19, 2014. So odd, the timing. There’s the obvious current events connection. (If you keep reading, you will see it is centered around my experience of tutoring a young boy whose family had to flee Myanmar.) It’s way more than that though. This was put together just two months after the death of my favorite person. A sad, sad, sad, angry, but also numb, fall. Yet my words contain positive sentiments. I express a connectedness to the world… forward-looking emotions. Community. Hope. Genuine gratitude. Things I seem to lack at present. Probably because I got outside my own head. Even if for just a couple hours a week. And yes, I know. Therein lies a solution, resolution, answer. To my self-involved, self-imposed, self-inflicted woes. Alas, here I am. Still sarcastic, still unfunny, still best to shut this shit down. Musings for future posts. Until then, just under a year ago…
The other time I can put my volatile, rageful feelings to rest is when I work with my fourth-grade student from Myanmar (formerly Burma). I tutor him in reading and writing two hours each week. The moment I enter his home, he, his mother and his older sister come out to greet me. He and his sister speak English fairly well (they learned much of what they know during their years in refugee camps). Their mother seems to know a little more each time we meet. They are the warmest, most loving family I’ve ever encountered. They have nothing in terms of material possessions; they live in poverty. But they are hopeful and kind. They laugh. A lot. And each time I visit, they insist upon feeding me, giving me bottled water and walking me to my car (while carrying my things). The mother always stands outside, even in this ridiculous cold, and waits until I wave and drive away before going back indoors. I feel she is the human embodiment of a characteristic I’ve never personally known– grace.
Not ironically, one of the vocabulary words we reviewed tonight was “grace.” I’ve learned that asking students to use terms in a sentence is often an easier (and more effective) path to comprehension than memorizing and spitting out flash-card-provided definitions. So, as always, I prompted him to use “grace” in a sentence. He was stumped. He surprised me by asking, Teacher, can you use it in a sentence? Then he grinned from ear to ear (a face-wide, toothy grin that oddly reminds me of my favorite person). I laughed. He kept grinning away. I marveled for a moment about how after just ten hours together, he had grown bolder. He exuded a new confidence in his speech and posture. He was comfortable enough with me to make a joke. That’s the stuff that makes hauling ass to way eastern St. Paul on an icy, cold night, after working all day, majorly worthwhile. So much gratitude.
I feel compelled to continue with “grace” for a bit. In part because this evening, I had some trouble coming up with a sentence that captured the meaning of “grace” for my young tutee. I tried out “graceful,” using the example of a deer running through the woods. He looked away, as he does when he’s thinking. Clearly that wasn’t working for him. So then I offered the explanation of “grace” as a custom of prayer before meals. You know, giving thanks for our food and family. He accepted that and we moved on in our lesson.
But I’ve been stuck on “grace” since leaving their apartment. I feel frustrated that I couldn’t provide this boy with a better articulation of “grace.” Hell, I’ve since looked it up, checked out all the synonyms and antonyms, and I am still struggling with a satisfying definition. Here’s what I’ve decided: I may not be able to tell you in words what “grace” means to me but I know it when I see it. You know, like the Supreme Court and obscenity? (I cannot pass up the chance to throw in some legal humor, perhaps because so little exists.)
Jesting aside, I do see grace. I recognize it in the mother of this family from Myanmar. Not only does she move with an ease in her own body–not unlike a fawn–she never makes her presence known in a room. At the same time, she exudes this unassuming, humble strength that is also measured and controlled. And I wonder if grace is an innate quality. Can we develop grace over a lifetime? Is it teachable? I don’t have answers but I feel as though this mother was born in grace. With grace. For despite their journey (one that they share with me incrementally), and even though they have had to overcome unfathomable obstacles to arrive somewhere they can call home, she emulates this modest and impeccably beautiful way of orienting oneself to the world. And if you look closely, you see those qualities in her children as well.
I have boundless gratitude for them. They remind me that even when there is pain, there is good. That despite loss and tragedy, there is life. That while unspeakably terrible events occur, humanity persists. That I can feel the rage, the emotional lability, but I can also laugh and have fun. That it’s okay to long for what was and be thankful for what I still have all around me. Which is a whole fucking lot.
Much love and light from my heart to yours.