imperfection still gets grace

So, I work with teenagers for a living and I feel entirely grateful to have that privilege. I resolutely believe they are absolutely remarkable humans with incredible potential to do amazing things with their energy and their determination and their ability to see possibility even in the darkness. They are imperfect creatures, just like the rest of us and they will falter mightily from time to time because learning demands those kinds of lessons. And I think that the adults of this world cling to only vague memories of what it was like to be that age–a pang of being grounded for talking back…the sting of a derision for making the hard decision to do the right thing…the ripples from careless words when you didn’t realize you were on 3-way calling (I’m a child of the 80’s…what can I say). That kind of nostalgia requires little effort. What we have shielded ourselves from, though, is the daily difficulty of living in a world that only gives you part of the respect you deserve–only sees you as adult when it is convenient for them to place you in that box, while reserving feelings like love, stress, heartbreak for an older population. As though the right to the intensity of those feelings has some sort of legal age requirement and should be diminished as childish before that point. And it is easy to look at adolescents and remark on how they are so different from kids when you were young–because they are different…the world they live in is different, so they have to be too. That does not make them bad or less than. It does, however, make them worthy of an effort to come to greater understanding, and it makes them worthy of our grace.

Here’s how I know that the young adults of this world are deserving of unrelenting grace…

Tonight, I accidentally encountered some photocopies of my creative writing from the 6th grade. My entire memory of writing these pieces is comprised of the joy I felt in the writing process and the fact that I intentionally tried to concern my teachers by killing off my family in every story in the most ridiculous ways (literally, I had them run over by Mardi Gras floats in one story…). I remember feeling exceptionally proud of my work and that my teacher always seemed to enjoy my stories.

In looking back at my writing now–in seeing the actual pieces that I composed–I am mortified at the person I was. There are comments and story elements throughout that reflect the sort of privileged private school existence that I was granted. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for my education and the sacrifices my parents made to make it possible. But I really thought I was a far more enlightened kid than this writing reveals. And while the teacher in me wishes my own teacher had called me out on some of these judgements and careless words, that very same teacher in me is also grateful that she responded to my creativity with positivity and understanding. My stories really are no masterpieces as I remember them to have been, but she overlooked flimsy storylines and outright character flaws (in me and on the page) to offer careful guidance and not to tarnish my joy in writing. She saw that maybe I was more than some of the thoughtless assumptions I included in my text. She saw more to me than my words and for that I am incredibly grateful.

Here is another reason to extend some grace. In a piece titled “What I Adore and Hate About Myself,” I wrote about how I adores how well I roller skated. I spent nearly a page sharing how hard I worked at this “sport” and how proud I was to be able to jump as opposed to hop on my skates (like I said, child of the 80’s). This “adoration” exists nowhere in my memory. I remember loving to roller skate but had no memory of still doing it in the sixth grade. Our memories are not complete–hazy at best despite feeling intense at times. Which means that just because we might look at young adults and discount their experience because of their youth or because we don’t remember being or behaving like them, doesn’t mean we are accurate in our assumptions. Recognizing that while they still have room to grow and mature, their levels of sophistication do not erase the reality of their current situation. Just because I look back and cringe at listing roller skating as what I loved about myself doesn’t make it any less important or meaningful to 12 year old me.

Will our young adults make mistakes? Yes! Do they still deserve respect throughout that learning process and the promise of our understanding? Of course, they are humans in this world. And as humans, they require support as they identify and repair flaws and mistakes. They also merit appreciation for their goodness. Our young adults should not have to earn our grace, it should simply be an effortless gift bestowed–because we would want the same generosity given to us.

(Just for comedy’s sake for those of you who really know me–in that last piece I referenced, the thing I hated about myself consisted of “the faces I make when I get mad at somebody or I am upset.” My reason for wanting to improve? “Because my mom always bugs me about it.”  Nothing about trying not to upset other people or about attempting to show greater respect or about using words instead of faces–none of that rational mature stuff…nope. Just that my mom was always bugging me about it. Hilarity.)

(Day 19–a bit of a rambling rant…but I didn’t feel like writing at all, so I am honestly just happy to have words on the page)

 

~hope~

The college admissions process, if I am being honest, is a destructive force in the life of high school students (I have other language for this but it’s not quite appropriate here). The urgency for students to make the very best grades in only the most challenging courses available hijacks their high school careers, and in many cases their quality of life and mental health. Students feel burdened to focus solely on a journey toward acceptance into college rather than on a course of self discovery; they are trained before they ever venture through the doors of high school that earning the highest grades supersedes learning for the sake of learning; high school becomes a means to an end rather than a place to dive in and truly engage in exploring curiosity. Teachers work hard to battle against this disruption in the educational lives of our kids, one that owns the potential to strip the true value of learning from their high school experience.

As a high school English teacher and principal, I could express concern for days on this subject. And not because my students are delicate flowers who can’t face the challenge–quite honestly, they persevere through it in a way most adults could not manage. My concern comes from the knowledge of what their high school careers could look like and the distorted version they are forced to live.

But this position is not the point of this blog…this is the “positivity project” after all! And the title of this blog is “hope”…so where is the hope, you are wondering? It is with the kids. They are always the hope.

Today, I was working with a senior on her college essay–guiding her through the process of maintaining her voice while revealing the best of herself. It was a delightful conversation–one that allowed her to maintain total control of her words and thoughts so that her essay absolutely represented her. She chose to write about a problem she would like to solve; she chose to write about civil discourse. Okay, so it is a given that anyone choosing the challenge of modeling civil discourse in our divisive and often vitriolic world and anyone willing to encourage others to participate has my attention. But the fact that this 18 year old is so driven by the import of this challenge delivers hope to my heart and reminds me why we do the hard work. It is important to note at this point that civil discourse is a sincere concern of hers and not just some concoction of desperation for admission to college. And her words reveal that:

Before I didn’t grasp how allowing vulnerability and discomfort into a conversation could solve the problem at hand. I didn’t realize that they were valuable and essential things I should embrace. I didn’t realize that what made me uneasy was the fundamental element that makes conversation helpful.”

Hope.

Because if everyone understood this and lived into it, the world would be a far more unified place to exist–people would live in community rather than in polarity. Rather than seeking means to always be in the right, we would spend more time listening, considering, understanding–even when it makes us uncomfortable, even when it means sharing in an honest and meaningful way. We would come to conversations in love rather than hate. We would be better humans.

Hope.

Because she will make this world a better place. Because she already has. Because if we listen carefully, this legion of teens we are torturing with a grueling college admissions process will show us the way. They are already leading us in the right direction. Let’s give them the credit they deserve, swallow our pride, listen and act on their guidance.

Hope.

In her words, “ I know that if society wants to reach true productivity there has to be a constant, earnest conversation. No loopholes..can be tolerated so those engaged are dedicated to working for the common good and not their personal interests. 

I don’t know where I will end up after college or what profession I’ll venture into because I am unsure about a great deal of things. However…I recognize that I have a passion and a gift for encouraging other people to listen and for exemplifying how to discuss respectfully, and I have no intention of wasting it.”