As a 10th grade English teacher, I learn a lot about students from their writing. I read about divorces, neglect, drug use, alcohol problems, and misery.
And I hold all of their words sacred. They’ve trusted me with them, and they could write about something easier, but they share what eats at them. They have to, before it consumes them.
My students likely don’t realize how much they’re revealing, but maybe they do. Maybe they hope someone’s paying attention when they write, “But that’s not who I want to be. I plan to be different.”
And I write back to them. “I know you’ll be different. You’re amazing already.”
They apologize for turning in work late—someone was kicked out of the house in the middle of the night, someone was taken away by the police, someone was using again, someone didn’t pay the electricity bill, an elderly guardian was afraid of the snow and didn’t want to send the child out into more danger—
I smile and say, “Whenever you can get it to me.”
“I will,” they say with determination. And they do. And it’s good.
My heart seizes nearly every day. Yesterday a student, with tears in her eyes, said, “Today’s my last day. My dad got custody again and I’m moving to his town this weekend.” Her best friend sat in the corner, weeping.
I realize I have no real problems—none at all. The ones I have are merely stubbed toes compared to the severed arteries these students walk around with, smiling bravely and vowing to be better to the world than it’s been to them.
I wish them luck. I pray silently for them, asking for inspiration as to how I can help. All I get back is, “Show them love. They need someone to love them.”
I know some people who take great pride in their heritage, brag about their legacy and ancestors, sit arrogantly on the shoulders of giants as if they climbed there all by themselves.
Then there are others who have crawled out of pits their families have dug, and they wipe themselves off and declare, “My children will never know of this place.”
I stand in awe of the second group.
Since I’ve moved to Maine last year and was asked to be a permanent substitute teacher (I love that oxymoron), I’ve taught my students probably a dozen things. In return they’ve taught me thousands.
I have a lot of catching up to do.
“I’ll remind her every day that her heritage doesn’t determine her actions. She’ll be the best beginning of a new legacy.”
~Book 8, The Last Day, coming Summer 2018
2 thoughts on “Book 8 teaser: Your heritage doesn’t determine your legacy, and that’s a good thing.”
So true. There is so much out there, claiming that it is impossible to change, to overcome your past. If you were abused, you will grow up to be an abuser. The child of an alcoholic well be an alcoholic. The victimized will be victimizers.
Often, this is born out of misplaced compassion. “It’s not your fault – circumstances forced you into it.” And there is a certain degree of truth to that statement, yes, but that MUST be followed up with, “Nevertheless, you have the power to change things,” to be the complete truth. To have the first statement without the second is to tell the listener that we are helpless to change, that we are trapped by circumstance, prisoners forever of another person’s actions.
I was one of those kids you talk about, and I felt hopeless about my future when I was a teenager, doomed to a miserable life. Everyone told me I was. Abused girls grow up to marry abusers, abused boys grow up to become abusers. No one ever said there was any other potential outcome, and I had no reason to believe the adults were mistaken. There were generations of abuse in my family after all. I was just one more generation, one more link of pain and despair in the chain that bound us all.
I was in my mid to late teens when I ran into the idea that I had the power to control my own future. That I could overcome the past and create something better for myself and my children. A poem here, an essay there, promises made to me in the context of my religion. A light in a dark room is a clichéd analogy, but I have no better way to describe how that felt. Suddenly there was light there, there was hope. I could DO something. I had POWER. And I started to work, seeking out better ways to live, better ways to interact with the world and with myself.
It wasn’t easy. It took years, and there are still things I struggle with, decades later. I’ve made a good and happy life for myself, though. My children are safe, and have peace in their lives, not fear. My husband is a calm and compassionate man, loving to his family, and an excellent father.
I thought life was on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being where I was, and 5 being an impossible to reach wonderland of happiness and peace. I dreamed of one day having a life that was a 3. That was a huge dream for me, at that time, in those circumstances, but I pursued it anyway – and by so doing I discovered that life goes up to 10! The life I have now is one I couldn’t have envisioned back then. I wouldn’t have even believed it was possible.
It’s hard to talk about my childhood. I would prefer to keep it unknown to those who know me, a shameful secret to be hidden and forgotten. But I know that there needs to be a countering voice to the hopelessness. I need to be one of those who stands up to stay, “Been there. Done that. Beaten it. YOU CAN TOO.” And I’m glad that you are another voice, telling those kids, “Yep. You can do this. Good job on your progress so far.” There aren’t anywhere near enough voices saying that.
Oh, Jen–this is amazing! And an absolute testament as to what one person can do when they decide the patterns stops with them. I’m so glad you shared. From what I know about you, I never would have guessed. Your transformation is so immense and complete, and a marvelous example.
Thank you so much.