Surroundings

Surrounded by darkness, we begin our day as teachers. We close the blinds to shield our classrooms from the blaring sun, open our windows with the strength in our forearms, and lay out our objectives for the students to gobble up after their free cinnamon-roll breakfast.

We read the morning headlines and the late-night emails that burden us with the responsibility of introducing these kids to a world we’re not sure we want to live in ourselves. We attend staff meetings bearing more bad news, and not a single soul leaves the brief update with a dry eye.

Surrounded by darkness, the school year begins. It isn’t enough that on the first day the moon literally blots out the sun. Its predecessor of racism, bigotry, anti-semitism, misogyny dressed up with tiki torches and accessorized with flippancy had already left us half blind.

We read letters from students who can’t find a place in their families who prefer siblings, a mistress, isolation over them. Letters that describe escaped wars, bullying, racial attacks, judgments about neighborhoods, gang violence, lost grandmothers. We read letters from students who have suffered more in sixteen years than we have in our entire lives.

Surrounded by darkness, their words filter into the sunlight of the late afternoon, the blinds reopened to let in a brief breeze, a small reprieve from the choking heat. They raise their eyes, their hearts, their voices to promise us they’re fully here, they’re fully listening, they’re fully aware of how safe this place is, of how much we love them.

We stand in hallways cheering them on as they run late to class. We exchange hope through shared lesson planning, whole-child strategies, ideas about how to reach the toughest, the sweetest, the lowest, kids. We reassure each other’s doubts, question the society we must send them to, and promise each other it will get better. We read each other’s words and commiserate, encourage, respond.

Surrounded by darkness, we wait for the sun. We go to bed too late and wake up too early, plagued with worry, with stress, with plates stacked too high and bad news piled too deeply.

And yet… there is beauty in shadows, in the small slivers of light from eclipses that dot the concrete sidewalks outside the school, where everyone has gathered together to be a part of history. In the cool morning before the sun hits the high sky, with impassioned pink cloud cover that draws in its softness a hope that we won’t swelter through unforgiving ultra-violet rays. In the truth of their words, of our words, where we trust each other with the world, with our raw emotions, with an honesty only found in youth.

Surrounded by darkness, we begin our day as teachers. We pull the blinds shut, open the windows, and wait for just the right moment to let in the light.

Surrounded by darkness, we wait. The breeze builds up, the moon blocks the sun, the heat seems inescapable.

But there is always just the right moment to lift the blinds. To hear our collective suffering fill the air, to see their eyes lifted to the sky, mesmerized for what may come, to be right here, only in this moment, letting our light surround our darkness.