Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A Text of Courage

A few days ago, one of my favorite former students sent me the above text.  (Yes, teachers do have favorite students.  And if you ask me if you are/were a favorite of mine, I, of course will say, yes! ;)

I love these inspirational touchstones because they embody the phrase "big things come in little packages" and words matter.    A wonderful family friend gave me my first one years ago.  It said "Breathe."  I would keep it in my pocket and whenever I was feeling anxious, I would hold the stone and remember to breathe as a way to calm myself down and keep myself in the moment.

Years ago, I decided to collect the stones and pass them out to students when a student was in need of a kind and/or inspirational word.  And although I know how much my breathe touchstone means to me, I wasn't sure what impact the small rocks would have on others' lives.

One of the first stones I gave away was to Lucas.  I never had Lucas as a student, but he was a student in the class two doors down from my classroom.  Lucas would always say hello to me as he walked by; he was the type of person who had an infectious personality--students and teachers so enjoyed being around him.  He was passionate, enthusiastic, smart, intense and fun.

One day Lucas came to see me.  He was upset over a personal issue.  We talked for a bit and I grabbed my bucket of stones and asked him to pick one randomly.  I knew it wouldn't be the answer to his problems, but I told him it might help in a small way.  The first stone he chose was patience. Well in typical Lucas fashion, he showed his gratitude by giving me a big hug and went on his way. 

The following week, Lucas came by and told his ELL teacher Jackie and me that he got a tattoo of the word on the stone.  He proceeded to pull up his shirt in the middle of the hallway and there across his chest was the word patience.  Both Jackie and I yelled at the same time, Pull your shirt down!  Looking back, the scene of these two older women yelling at this student to pull down his shirt must have been quite comical.  Lucas then whipped out his phone and showed us a picture of the tattoo on his phone.  (that was more appropriate, I say with a laugh!).  When Lucas was passionate about something, he was all in.  And to be honest he wasn't the most patient person, but he wanted to be--so much so that he literally had it embedded in him.

Later on in the school year, he came back for another stone and chose wisdom. (He did not tattoo this word.)  When he graduated from high school, we were all sorry to see him go.  We had learned as much from him as he had learned from us.  The following school year, in between classes a student whom I did not know came into my classroom. He introduced himself and said Lucas had encouraged him to come see me.  The student said Lucas told him I was someone to talk to and to ask for a stone.  All I could do was smile internally--that was so Lucas--to look out for his friends in an act of compassion. 

Tragically, almost a year ago, Lucas passed away.  Needless to say, we are all still grieving.  To lose such a young person who was filled with such love is heartbreaking and devastating.  This year, I have his younger sister Lydia as a student.  Recently, she shared that her family was going through Lucas's things and found the touchstones he had chosen.  She and I had an emotional moment together as the pain of not having Lucas was/is palpable.  Seeing the stones reinforces that words do matter--as they connect us in so many ways.  I now keep stones and quote cards available to pass out to students--and I lovingly think of Lucas.


So when my former student texted me the picture of the stone last week, I began to further think about the word courage.  Every day, we teachers bear witness to great acts of courage by our students and by our colleagues. Some of these acts may appear small to others, but we know they can be monumental for our students and us.

Some examples:

*a student raising her/his hand
*a student getting to school
*a student sharing that she is struggling because her mother was diagnosed with cancer
*a student who has cancer
*a student who tries out for a varsity sport
*a student who stands up to a peer who is bullying
*a student asking out their love interest on a date
*a student overcoming an injury
*a student sharing her parent is an alcoholic and she is scared

*a teacher who is willing to share something personal to model vulnerability for his/her students
*a teacher who is willing to make a mistake
*a teacher who is able to laugh at himself/herself
*a teacher who is sick and still keeps on going

This list of courageous acts goes on and on...and I encourage you to add your courageous acts in the comment section.

FDR said, "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear."  I thank Lucas, former students, current students, and colleagues--for constantly showing me what courage looks like.