Wednesday, November 07, 2007

My Biggest Mistake Yet

For the last few weeks I have been heading to school with the weight of the world on my shoulders. I wish it was an exaggeration, but I’m here to tell you that a devastating mistake I made some five weeks ago created unbelievable repercussions on my happiness for sometime now.

It all happened when I thought I heard one of my students call me a maricon. It was already building into a long day, and as I’ve come to learn, the quickest lapse of sound judgment can be the most dangerous.

I snapped. I ripped her apart, berating her about the lack of respect. I went on and on, demanding accountability for her actions. She denied any wrongdoing, refusing to admit she called me what I was so sure she called me. And you know, playing the moment over and over in my head again, a bit of doubt has began to creep in, questioning me to wonder if I really did hear her wrong.

Anyway, on I went, humiliating this poor girl in front of the rest of the class until I finally forced her to break down- sobbing and embarrassed. I stood there in front of the class, just having humiliated one of my poor students into tears. Mr. Tough guy, just like I felt I had to be- feeling like the biggest and most worthless jackass in the world.

Two days later I was in a bind. I couldn’t shake the guilt of my actions like the Patrick Furlong before South America might have been able to so easily have done. It became a moment in my young teaching career where the supposed mistake of the student paled in comparison to my mistake, that of the educator. And so, I made one of my most difficult but altogether important decisions: I humbled myself and apologized to this young girl. Throughout it all, she never once looked me in the eye or even acknowledged what I was saying to her.

Five weeks had crawled by and she still wouldn’t speak to me or even look at me. Racked with an incredible guilt that wasn’t disappearing anytime soon, I did everything I could to reverse the situation: all to no avail. A child was entrusted into my care, and I violated that trust. And she had every right to feel and act the way she did. She even got her little friends to ignore me as well. I was once like a saint to these children, and now I was nothing more than a jerk whose existence was acknowledged with a silent eye roll (and these kids give killer eye rolls). And so what once was my personal heaven, the downtown center in “La Marin”- quickly became my nightmare.

I submitted myself to my own trials of humiliation when day after day I would attempt conversation with her and day after day, she ignored me. And so imagine my surprise the other day when at last, she responded to me. It was nothing major, a short conversation about something or other at school, but the look in her eyes moved me profoundly. There are times, I am convinced, where God DIRECTLY communicates with you through another human being. It was as though the lesson of a lifetime was conveyed through her cautious eyes.

I went to a little hidden nook in the center after that little conversation and shed a few tears of relief and ultimately, of sincere thanks. In the end, 6th grade Diana taught me a think or two about forgiveness. And through her forgiveness, I’d like to think I learned more in that one shameful downfall then I might throughout the rest of the year about what kind of teacher, what kind of person I not only should be, but desire to be as well.

I have learned a lot about vulnerability over the last 15 months and would like to propose it is perhaps the most misunderstood adjective in our language. Perhaps it conjures images of susceptibility or weakness. But to me, vulnerability is having the courage to declare we are broken, and as a result, incredibly blessed. It’s looking at the world with the walls of our defense down. It’s allowing the human condition which seeks to permeate through our being to do just that. Ours is a life of co-dependency. To be vulnerable therefore is nothing more than to love without limits.

It’s taken a bunch of street kids and some lonely and challenging moments to teacher me the greatest lesson of my short life. Call it cheesy or call it cliché, but the only thing worth a damn in this life is finding a way to open ourselves freely to love in a way in which we live fully in the consequences: the sadness and the pain, the joy and euphoria. We all make grand mistakes, but perhaps the biggest of all would be to allow our pride to blind us in such a way that we see vulnerability as a weakness rather than our most admirable strength.

(Oh, and an update since I wrote this journal entry. Things with Diana are going great. She is talking to me again, joking and laughing, and even gave me a hug as I left work the other day.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I remember making a similar mistake like that one time. There was this great six year old child at home and I went in to the garage and noticed a hole in the side door. And it was taped from the inside. Both the six year old and his 14 year old sister denied any knowledge of how the door had come to have a hole in it. And I went off on both of them. The sister even had the termity to suggest perhaps someone had tried to break in. "Sure", I yelled, "And they taped the hole from the inside". Well it turned out that someone had indeed tried to break in. The sister, thinking her brother had made the hole, tried taping it to cover it up. That's how much she loved him. I too learned a lesson that day. And that is patience. Learn to wait until you have all the evidence before you crucify an innocent 6 year old.