― Kahlil Gibran
This year saying goodbye to students was, well, rather gut-wrenching. I'm still trying to process it all.
In our program, we get so close to the students. They are with us all day. They are so needy and often fragile at first. We're not just teaching English- we're teaching them about how to live in this new world called America. We're helping kids from different parts of the world get along and forge friendships. Many have been through some pretty horrific things and they may not talk directly about this trauma, but we're helping them put their hearts back together and feel the safety that every human should know.
So, saying goodbye at the end of the school year turns out to be a complicated, messy, heartbreaking experience.....But one week ago today, I faced it and said goodbye. I said goodbye to kids who have completed the requirements for our program and are spreading out to 4 different high schools in town and 2 other middle schools. I said goodbye to kids who were just here temporarily and are now going back to their home countries. I said goodbye with the biggest lump in my throat I have ever known on closing day....
I laughed. I cried. I hugged. I tried to say just the right thing.
So. Very. Difficult.
How does one say goodbye to these precious kids? How does one let go?
How do you say goodbye to the stunningly beautiful girl who wasn't at school much because she was getting treated for cancer? Yet, when she came, she worked so hard and with such a zeal, it amazed you. Everyone loved her because she was gorgeous inside and out. She finally finished her treatment and was around the last few weeks. And, on the last day she asked if she could say something to the whole class. And, she stood and pulled out a page she had written and thanked everyone for their support and said how much she loved being here and how she would never forget us.
How do you say goodbye to the sweet-faced boy from one of the scariest places in the world who went from seeming afraid and jumpy to being a kid who skipped into school with an enormous smile on his face every day?
How do you say goodbye to the girl returning to her country who says plainly that she doesn't want to go back, that she likes it here so much? The same girl who was so quiet and so reserved, but slowly came out of her shell. The same girl who asked if she could play her violin for the whole class and they were silent while she played- the kind of silent when you get to watch someone be in their moment and do something they love- and then the whole class broke out in raucous applause when she finished. And, she grinned from ear to ear....
How do you say goodbye to the boy with the gentlest soul and spirit who wrote you a letter about how important teachers are and how they must be respected? The letter you still have hanging by your desk.
How do you say goodbye to the girl who was so closed and guarded but slowly, slowly started to let you and others in? You sat with her one day this spring and helped her with her autobiography and it was only then that you realized what she had lost and you looked at her and told her in Spanish so no one else understood, "I'm so sorry. I didn't know. You've been through so much." And, she cried quietly and she lets you take her hand.....
How do you say goodbye to the 15 year old, 6 foot tall young man whom you and your colleague call the peacemaker? This student speaks the two most common languages in our program and so helped us resolve conflicts between countless kids. It wasn't just the fact that he knew these languages. It was the leadership, humor, and warm spirit he brought to these interactions that made the difference. The moment this boy hugged me tight, started crying, and whispered, "Thank you for everything, miss. I'll never forget you." is the moment I lost it and just began weeping openly. Then he pulled this beautiful camel out and pressed it into my hands and said it came from his country and it was for me.
How. To. Say. Goodbye?
I knew it was going to be hard. I kind of tried to prepare myself. I even thought about being stoic and trying to keep myself removed from the emotion of it all. But, that is SO not me and who I am.
So, as the title says, I said goodbye with an open heart. With hugs. With tears. With laughter. With heartfelt words. With words of encouragement, love, and support. I did my best. I offered my open heart to the beauty that is these students.
And, I looked around that room and I saw 40 kids hugging each other, enjoying each other, exchanging numbers and addresses, many crying, some sobbing. And, I saw again that these kids from such different cultures and countries were joined together and had created these amazing friendships. And, it was SO beautiful. It was so lovely. And, I knew I had a part in that. I knew I had at least a small part in the creation of this little happy piece of the word where differences melt away and kids from very different worlds learn to be friends.
And, I realized that if it wasn't so special and precious, it wouldn't hurt so much. And, thinking about it that way, well.... that actually made it hurt a little less.