Last class of the day, I stood patiently at the front of the room, calling my students back to me. “Come back,” is my catchphrase this year. In years past, I was known for my descriptive countdowns (“In 5, let’s come out of our conversations…in 4, all eyes up front…in 3, Justine is going to stop talking to Chelsea…”). This year, when students jump up out of their seats to play teacher, it’s “Come back, come back,” they chirp at their classmates. On field trips, they call it out on the train and smile at me when it works. “Come back,” I croon, beckoning them towards me. “We’re here,” Ayender always responds, crooked smile saying “gotcha.”
But they were not coming back today. Last period was too long, too much, & no amount of calling & counting was going to squash the giggles & whispers that kept our whole class share-out splintered.
I felt a familiar annoyance creeping up in me. Irritated, both at my students & myself, I stepped to the side, waited. As the uncomfortable quiet started to settle, with much angry “shh!”-ing at those who could not contain themselves, I wondered why I was doing this.
Why did I need their attention to be on me? Why did I need them to come back if it meant dragging them into the positions of compliance, if I knew their minds would be elsewhere anyway? Why wasn’t I just finding a way to work with them, instead of pulling them back to me?
This is the shift. Without realizing it, I find the ground beneath my feet is different.
I’ve sensed the shift in other areas of my life. I’ve been having back trouble lately, just nagging pain & stiffness that have made my workouts ineffective to impossible. Time was, not long ago at all, that I’d be in a panic right now. Disguised by resignation, it would have me convinced that every missed workout was a direct hit to my success, that I would wake up in a day or two having undone the progress of the past months. It would not let me be kind.
I want to workout, right now. I want to do push ups & grin when I meet the ground without falling. I want to flip into a headstand & point my toes towards the moment I leave the wall & float. I want to climb a mountain, or at least a wall. But instead I stretch. I breathe deeply. I let patience bloom in the cradle of my ribs and tell myself, “soon.” And I believe it. Suddenly, kind is easy.
Suddenly, and not so suddenly. I know the years of work I have put into this: self-forgiveness, understanding, kindness. Being kind to myself is the hardest thing, my hamartia, my superhero weakness. In the final issue of my comic book, my nemesis will have me tied up before a giant mirror, & the key to saving myself & the world will be forgiving myself. If you asked me a year ago (a month? a week, a day?) how it would end, I would have told you we were all doomed. Now, I’m not so sure. The ground has shifted. Stepping forward, it is soft beneath my feet, springing me along.