Ashwini

My heart is hurting and I’m not exactly sure why.

News about the Frenchman who was recently beheaded in Algeria made my eyes water. Emma Watson’s speech on feminism made my chin quiver. Hearing about the man who broke into the White House—weapons in hand—left imprints of clenched anger on my palms.

Every time I help students prepare the morning news (every week a group of four high school students is responsible for presenting global news to their classmates), I feel like retreating into a sleep deep enough to forget the fighting. To not think about the pain of the people who have been fighting fights that no one should have to for far too long.

Maybe it is because I am so tired I could fall asleep on my feet. With so few volunteers the past few weeks, we have been overstretching ourselves to make sure all the classes and extracurricular activities are covered. During last week’s arts camp (pictures soon), I thought I would have a chance to sleep and lesson plan, but at the last minute I was put in charge of 6th and 7th grade grammar boot camp (because the students did not perform very well on their English term exams it was decided they needed remedial help). So instead of sleeping, I got to teach 30 middle schoolers grammar every day by myself. And if that doesn’t already sound fun, imagine doing that while arts camp is going on. You know how many kids would rather learn grammar than paint, dance, and play music? The answer, universally, is zero. I did get some laughs out of them though, so that’s a win.

Maybe it is because I am far from home and miss my country more than I thought I would. I never considered myself a patriot until a few years ago and, while I am certainly not blind to the many areas of America’s backwardness, I have never been more certain that it is home. It is where the people dearest to me are and—though I am not done traveling—I cannot wait to go back.

Maybe it is because my heart is stretching in ways I never thought it could. Can I really love 230 students this much after six weeks? They talk during class, sneak out of prep time, come up with terrible excuses for being late, and even steal stickers…but they also have more empathy than I thought possible to have at their age, they stay positive and unwavering in the face of situations that would have turned me bitter, and they approach life and education as gifts. They inspire me.

Maybe it is because last week, one of these precious children died. The story is not mine to tell, but you can read it here. Ashwini is the first child Shanti Bhavan has ever lost, which is kind of miraculous when you consider how many children have passed through these halls in the last 18 years. Still, it is one too many.

Maybe I feel guilty grieving the way that I did because I had only known her for three weeks before she went into a coma. The news was tragic, as is any sudden loss of such a young life, but what right did I have to cry and take part in her funeral service the way the students did?

Maybe it is because Ashwini is the sixth young life lost this year that I feel connected to in some way. Selfishly, I am grateful that all of the losses have been tangential—I knew or knew of every individual, but we weren’t close. Other than the lingering reminder that life is short and unfair, I have no tangible reminders of them.

I thought the same was true of Ashwini, but then I found this note while cleaning out my desk.


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I am angry. I am angry and sad and confused and numb. How can I protect my students from things like this? How can I help them stay positive and strong when I am so frustrated with the world? How am I supposed to teach them and help them find themselves when I myself am still learning how to teach and how to grow up? One of the 6th grade girls and I share the same birthday. She will be turning 12 next year and I will be 24. How did that happen?

Maybe I just have to keep holding second grade hands when they tell me stories about their lost classmate, encouraging the seniors when they are exhausted and confused about life, and watching FRIENDS while eating as much nutella out of the jar as needed. And, when in doubt, I think the best solution is just to spend ten minutes with these kids outside of the classroom. Let them be kids and be a kid with them. Then everything makes sense.


Side-note: I wrote this yesterday when I was in a funk, but after going to the farm with the kids to chase butterflies and eat baby carrots and a night of popcorn and Remember The Titans (I love watching movies with these kids because they all cheer when exciting things happen) I feel much better. Starting next week, a few more volunteers will be coming and taking several of my classes. Hopefully more time will equal more time to blog that doesn’t interfere with sleep. So many wonderful things have been happening alongside the sad and stressful ones and I hope I get the chance to share them all with you soon.

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