Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Being Seen

This evening. Facebook did that thing it does sometimes, show me a photograph from 3 years ago or some such. Today's flashback was a photo of my grandfather's headstone at Jefferson Barracks cemetery. Last flight west.

I remembered going out to the cemetery three years ago and seeing the headstone with the pennies on top, left by a cousin, I found out later (also on facebook). And how I cried like I didn't think I would. And how I've cried every time I've gone back.

And I had to brush tears away, sitting in the bleachers of the pool at the junior college where Brooklyn was in a swim meet.

I look like him. Every time I catch my profile. There he is.

I didn't know him, though, not at all. I remember being surprised that one night at my uncle Glennon's wedding, the uncle who looks just like my son, when he pointed across the room at me, turning to a friend and saying, "That's my oldest granddaughter," with real pride in his voice. And I was too awkward in my own skin to have a conversation. But I think he saw me.

This afternoon. An 8th grade boy came into my room and said, "Are you doing ok? You look like you're not having a good day." I almost fell to the floor in surprise. We talked a minute. It was perfect.

I don't expect it from my young ones, my 6th graders who are still getting to know me. My 7th graders are completely self-absorbed. Last year's 8th grade had a couple of boys who could read me like a book. It was actually kind of unnerving. But this year's 8th grade is harder. I see them, but they don't have a lot of capacity to see me. And that's ok--the way I teach (the way I live) requires that I have my hands open to them, all the time, but that doesn't mean they grasp hold. Sometimes learning math and going to the next classroom is enough. It's not possible to do more for some of them. Most of them.

This specific boy, though, is the one I've been rooting for since he was in my homeroom two years ago. All the metaphors: I have his back. I have gone to bat for him. He is my dog in the fight. Not just figuratively.

And he felt my mood before I did today. I had a migraine by 4 o'clock. It was starting to wash over me at 2:30 when he stood in my doorway and had this moment with me.

I think he saw me.

Two years ago today. A nun I respect very much, so very much, had this interaction with me:

I asked her if anyone she helps ever succeeds. And she told me yes. Some never do, and she doesn't know what happens to them after they exhaust their resources with her and others like her. But many people just need help to get where they're going. "And he's so blessed to have you in his life. Thank you for doing this." I told her I should be thanking her, and did thank her, and she told me that if every foster care kid, every child of refugees, every child who grows up in poverty or neglect of abuse just had someone like me to walk with them into adulthood, she wouldn't have as much to do. It was kinda what I needed to hear. She saw me.

Because of who I am, one of those things I strive for, something that is kind of my superpower, is seeing other people. Getting them. Making them the most important person in the room, whether they are an 8th grade boy everyone else has given up on or a 26 year old boy that nobody wanted in the first place or the friend across the table over coffee or the school mom who is so worried about her daughter's grades.

And it costs me nothing (nichevo) to do it--it is who I am--but it strikes a special harmonic chord in my soul when I recognize it happening to me. When she sings in my key. When he reads me back to me. When someone tells me my whole life leaning against the well in Samaria. When a 14 year old reaches out of himself and sees me.

It pierces my fucking heart.


  1. Beautiful. I think it is all any of us want, isn't it? To see, to be seen, to connect.