Friday, October 22, 2010

Bringing The Room Down For A Minute...

It's easy to get dragged down by the day-to-day frustrations of a job, the office politics, the nonstop multitasking, the every-day, all-day-ness of it. But once in a while something happens to elevate the experience, or give me pause and make me really grateful that I am in this position. I have always been drawn to stories and sometimes I am very lucky to hear some incredible stories and learn about the students' lives in far-flung corners of the world.

In addition to intensive English classes, volunteer opportunities, and community and cultural activities, my students take art expression classes. These sessions do not teach them to be artists, but rather encourages them to express parts of their cultures without language.

Wednesday evening the students were sharing their pieces with the group when we came to a painting of a mangled hand. The painter was a Palestinian man. His hand had been mangled by the Israeli military, preventing him from being able to use any weapons in the future. I thought that was bad enough until I learned that this student's mother had been shot to death, for no discernible reason, by Israeli soldiers. This student, who had every reason in the world to despise Israel and turn to terror or violence, spoke only of his desire for peace between Palestine and Israel. He has now devoted his life to education, working in schools in the poorest parts of war-torn Palestine, ensuring that those children do not grow up hating their oppressors.

The weight of his story sank deeper and deeper, through my emotions, my rudimentary knowledge of history, bore its way down through equally upsetting stories that do and maybe do not corroborate his experience, and, finally, down into a sad, hopeless place where I have to put things I believe I can never resolve or improve.

Feeling good now? Need another picture of D. in his hirsute phase?

Well, luckily there's somewhat of a postscript. The more I think about all the heart-breaking stories I've heard through the course of my work, the more I'm struck by how optimistic and hopeful these people are (regardless of age), or at least energized to counteract the worst parts of their conditions. The man whose story I told up there is so very kind, curious, intelligent, and empathic. Where I'd be a total wreck, trying out endless pharmaceuticals, breaking down, and feeling awful, he refuses to give in to such indulgences. I HAVE SO MUCH TO LEARN about grace, strength, coping mechanisms, and choosing optimism. It is a choice, so why am I not making it? I can and I will.


ste-pha-nie said...

You are a beautiful soul, and you have good stories to share also. I love hearing (reading) real stories, and you know how to tell them :)

Alannah said...

Thank you, Stephanie. I have a wonderful group of students right now. It really makes me want to go the extra distance and spend a lot of time getting to know them.