Then, when I was able to breathe again, we started talking about my students. And, he helped me find words for what I knew would be difficult conversations when I got to school a few hours later.
When I walked in the building, a mother and her daughter were coming down to meet with us before class began. They told us that she was going to have to leave and go back to her country for several months to do some testing that is important in their educational system.
The mom told us what an amazing experience her daughter had with us for the two months she was here- how much she learned and grew. My partner and I (easy criers, but even more so this morning with our nerves frayed) both burst into tears. We talked about how talented, smart, kind, and beautiful her daughter is and how much we love having students from all over the world- that we treasure them.
Her mom said one more thing to us before she left, as if to offer comfort, even though we never talked about the election. She looked at us both, "You make America bright."
Then the real brightness arrived for the day- the girls and boys, refugees and immigrants, Muslims, Mexicans, Syrians, Somalis, and more. Our students. Our beloved students.
There was a lot of anxiety, worry, and stress that morning. One child even burst into tears. We let them get it out. We reassured them. We explained some things to them about democracy and how decisions get made and carried out.
My partner said, "You need to write. You need to process this. What is it you want to say?"
We kept talking. The theme that kept emerging was the deep desire to be understood, for America to know them.
And, I knew immediately that this was brilliant. This was how to be heroic. This was the hero and heroine's response to despair. Knowing. Understanding. Friendship. Community. Connection.
Father Greg Boyle says that it's hard to demonize people you know.
I'll go a step further. I contend that when you know these students, these beautiful refugees and immigrants, you will love them. To know them is to love them.
So, they wrote. They processed. They helped each other with language, interpreting when necessary. We listened. we recorded. They wrote about 4 main themes:
Who are we? Why are we here? What are our hopes and dreams? What is our message?
And, this is just a sample of what they said........
Who are we?
We come from 16 different countries. We speak 9 different languages plus English. Some of us know three or more languages. We're excellent chess players. We're hard workers. We're smart. We're kind.
Why are we here?
For safety. Because my country had a war. To have a better life. To be with my mom who I hadn't seen for 10 years. So,my dad can get medical treatment. To learn English while my parents work here for a year. To have a good life and be in a place where I can go to school and get an education. To be free.
What are our hopes and dreams?
I want to be a doctor for children. I want to be a DJ and share music with people. I want to be a soccer player. A teacher. A police officer. A singer, an artist, an engineer, a video game developer....
What is our message?
I'm the same as you. I want to learn and have a good life. I'm not here just for fun; I'm here because I had to leave my country that was at war. I've had struggles but now I'm stronger. I'm wise because of what I've gone through. I want to be happy.
Like so many times before, my students were heroes to me as we discussed and wrote and discussed some more.
Being heroic means being scared or even terrified, yet writing about your hopes and dreams.
Being heroic means feeling misunderstood and even persecuted, yet reaching out your hand in friendship.
Being heroic means walking to another country while your home burns in the background. And then walking into a new country with your head held high.
Being heroic means crowding out the negativity and focusing instead on joy, peace, community, and friendship.
These kids show me how to be heroic every day and in so many ways.
A writer I love, Cheryl Strayed, talks about the advice her mom gave her whenever she was down or distressed:
"There is a sunrise and a sunset every day and it's up to you to be choose to be there for it. Put yourself in the way of beauty."
So, today, I choose to put myself in the way of beauty.
I choose to take a deep breath and look at my beautiful students and get back to work.
I choose to show up for the sunrises and sunsets.
I choose to follow their example and be as heroic as I can possibly be.