I walked out of my classroom and into the hall. I rushed down the dark corridor – the last one out, again. I made my way outside and the oppressive heat of an Indian summer smacked me squarely in the face. I trudged to my car, by then lonely and waiting patiently for me in the parking lot. The heat was all-consuming, and I was already tired. My right knee ached from injury and age and standing on my feet for eight hours straight. I felt the urge to blurt out a string of curse words. Exhaustion had gotten under my skin and left an angry irritation. I started my car and stared at the dashboard. The temperature gauge read 100 degrees. By the time I closed the car door, two fat tears were rolling down my cheeks. I hate to cry, so I became acutely aware that I had begun to weep openly in a somewhat public place. I scanned the surrounding area to make sure the random high school athlete or the cross country coach wasn’t lingering. I know the coach would have asked me what was wrong, and the short answer was that I had no idea. The coolness of the tears felt good in the sweltering heat. I cried for a few minutes, and then I pulled myself together and onto the roadway.
I slid my car into the garage and walked into the house. My family was none the wiser that I had had an emotional moment 10 minutes earlier. That night, in the quiet of darkness, my thoughts were beating loudly in my ears: I thought of the student I found crying in the bathroom, asking why the people she loves all eventually leave. I thought of the boy who has a very chaotic home situation, but always greets me with a smile and a fist bump. Honestly, sometimes when I look at the beautiful faces in my classes, I can see part of myself. The girl who feels she isn’t good enough … the young guy just trying to make the best of it … I see it all.
The truth is, even though I see it, I have to be careful not to take on everyone else’s pain. In order to be at my best, I have to practice self-care, or I’ll end up in the school parking lot needlessly sweating, possibly swearing, in a heap of tears. I can and will tell these kids it’s not their fault, but until they organically internalize the truth, nothing I say will make a significant difference.
What I have come to sincerely believe is there is an art to being human. Our lives are designed so we all become the best versions of ourselves. In order to learn and grow, we have to make mistakes. In fact, it’s a prerequisite to maturity. I wish I could scream from the rooftops that perfection doesn’t exist. Put the energy into something productive and achievable. A person can be happy, or they can chase perfection, but they cannot have both. I want to tell kids trying to convince someone to love us is futile. Nothing we will ever do can convince others of our worth. We must know our worth and never lose sight of it. The right people will see it easily. Rumi once said, “Life is a balance of holding on and letting go.” Figuring out to hold on to the positive and let go of the toxic is an art in itself.
Here’s the deal: I’ve heard it said to just be yourself. There is no way to do that if a person has no real concept of who that is. Until deeply-rooted pain is healed, hurt people will always hurt people – and themselves. “How do you know this Miranda?” you may ask. Because living unhealed became almost unbearable. I was hiding painful events, even from myself. That’s why I will always choose to be kind to those others deem undeserving.
I am always aware of my choices. Don’t over-analyze why people try to hurt others. Chances are that they don’t fully understand it themselves, and they truly won’t until pain is faced and healed. Compassion doesn’t make me gullible – just the opposite. Compassion is born from self-awareness and wisdom. I can honestly say I love for the pure joy it brings me – no other reason. With that said, love and friendship has been returned to me tenfold. People are drawn to unconditional acceptance, of myself and those around me. Love is the clay that bonds us; helping to create the art of being human.
Miranda Cipkowski is a Fulton resident and teacher at Tremont Attendance Center.