I grew up with a large extended family. My parents have been married for over fifty years. In my circle of family and friends, we have experienced life and death, cancer, anxiety and depression, and, of course, art, and music. I could discuss any of those things all day long.
There are other things I would rather not discuss. This week I was reminded more than once of life experiences for which I have no point of reference.
The first one involved a younger student. Before class, the teacher mentioned that the father of this child was going to prison. This friend was restless, struggling to engage and fit in. Quickly moving between over-excitement and complete stillness. I think it had been a rough day.
I had my young friend sitting right beside me during music class. When I sensed a little restlessness, I slowly patted on the back-a steady, gentle, sixty-beats-per-minute pat. It seemed to help.
After class, I found myself thinking, “How could my actions possibly help this situation for the long-term?” Yes, they might have helped at that moment. However, in the grand scheme, offered little.
The second involved an older student. This student was able to put their feelings and experiences clearly into words. Nothing could prepare me for hearing, “I was taken away from mom. I talk to her sometimes, but she really doesn’t want to see me.”
I managed a short response, “I’m sorry. You are special. I love you.”
I cannot possibly understand how this student feels. I could offer a listening ear, a kind word, and a smile. Was that enough? It certainly did not feel like it at the moment.
Thankfully, I am not the only one listening. I work in a school building, a district, and a profession with many other caring adults. Many of them listen to heart-breaking stories every day. And the collective listening and responding do have the power to make a positive impact.
No, I may not have a personal point of reference for these two students. And I know there are many other stories I have not heard. But there is strength in numbers. And tonight, I will rest in that point of reference.