I read a pile of student drafts this afternoon, and also a class set of notebooks. The drafts were on self-selected topics, and one of the prompts in the notebooks asked the students to introduce themselves to me. Although I hadn't specifically asked anyone to write about the earthquake, many of the students did.
I sat and cried while I read.
And it suddenly occurred to me: This is why I am here. There are plenty of people who could teach my kids to write. And sure, I can do it too; I can fix their spelling and nudge their verb tenses and help them express themselves even better. But nobody can cry with them the way I can. (I am, by the way, a world-class crier.) Nobody can care about them the way I do, at least not exactly the way I do. Nobody else will read their writing the way I will, with exactly my eyes.
When I cry with them, it's not out of pity, because I saw something on TV or read about the Haitian children, but out of empathy. I know. I love Haiti too. I've lived here longer than you have; I came here before you were born. I was here that day in January, and I felt the earth shake. I'm so sorry for what you lost, and you're right to mourn those people and those places and that life. I love you. And God loves you.
We don't just sit around and cry. I still make them be quiet and stop chewing gum and turn in their homework on time. Life goes on and there are expectations. But they know that I care about them, and that I'm there if they want to talk, and that I'll read draft after draft of whatever they want to write.
All those months ago, when I was in the States, fretting about my complete uselessness, people said to me, There will be work to be done that only you can do. And now, here it is. I can teach and love these kids, here and now. I feel as though I'm exactly where I belong, doing exactly what I am supposed to do. And even if "what I am supposed to do" involves sadness and grief, it's sadness and grief I am uniquely qualified to suffer. And it's a privilege to do it.
3 hours ago