I couldn’t sleep last night.
Earlier in the evening I attended the Underground, our youth group at Church of the Holy Family led by Fr. Scott Jenkins. I am no “youth.” Yet, at fifty-seven years of age, I was invited and found myself walking through the doors to the meeting.
There was exploration around the theme of social justice, a Christian way of living.
Some words repeatedly made themselves known to me through the evening’s discussion that continued onto the Underground Facebook page.
Agitated, addictive personality, abuse, discernment, hubris, fixer, and self-care
camped-out in my unsettled thoughts.
I was too agitated to sleep.
I didn’t know why.
This morning on my way to my writing group I grappled with a lingering question. How do I find compassion when abuse is part of the equation?
Mental illness played a large part of my formation into adulthood. On the surface I understand, from years with a schizophrenic and alcoholic mother, that beneath the outward abusive actions, there are things that simply cannot be controlled. Luckily for me, physical abuse towards me was minimal. I only remember a few minor incidents that I have never shared with anyone.
However, the verbal and mental abuse aimed at me was stellar. Our family doctor assured me that my mom loved me and that she couldn’t help herself. My dad was there to smooth things over.
My mom was institutionalized several times and subjected to shock treatments. The end of her life was somewhat easier. Drugs were better by then. My dad was retired and spent twenty-four hours a day with her making sure she took her meds and kept her away from alcohol. Being that he is OCD, it worked out well.
I still don’t know if my mom really loved me, or could love me.
The Social Justice Way
I also connected with a statement from one member of the group. During the previous evening we weighed out the positives of the Social Justice Way with its inherent dangers. One group member said he wonders if he is missing something by doing the action part of social justice and not participating more fully in the communal prayer of Christian living.
I understand from where he is coming, only in the opposite direction. I always wonder if I am too prayerfully self-absorbed and not active enough.
My head tells me that I should be more persistent in the Social Justice Way. I want to be more involved in helping others who are marginalized, on the fringe, especially understanding how mental illness comes into play. After listening to the discussion, I realized that I might just already be there.
I am a teacher.
I am in a school with a large population that along with very stable families also includes homelessness; refugees; illegal immigrants, single parent homes in constant transition; children living with grandparents while parents complete their jail time; and children who have been removed from their parents for lack of care. I am in a school with a Behavior Disorder program, Integrated Learning Classroom (ILC) for those with low IQs, and students with physical and mental disabilities. I work with all of these children and I am charged with teaching them how to read.
When my students come to me tired because of the fighting in their homes or from sleeping on the floor because all the beds are taken; when they come to me in the same clothes they have worn for three days straight; when they come to me dirty and without breakfast; how do I ignore all of that, put it aside, and just teach them how to read?
I want to fix it. I want to fix it all. Hubris?
I want my six and seven-year-olds to be happy and healthy and clean and full and not tired. I want those sweet souls to feel safe and trust me. I want them to know they are loved just for who they are and not because they might give me the right answers or have proficient test scores.
And I don’t want the administration and politicians and the general public looking at data telling me I am not doing my job because my kids aren’t “grade level.” Even though some of my kids came to me two or more grade levels behind and made “only” a year’s growth according to the standards, I know they have grown tremendously in other ways. Test scores are not the only touchstone for me.
What matters to me is the day I hear the first student in each new school year call me “mom.” I know then that I am doing my job.
And I don’t want someone who is mentally ill walking into my classroom having easily obtained a gun and shooting every one of my first graders dead.
I want people to know this is how we feel – the vast majority of teachers. I love my kids, your kids. And I will stand up for them and give my life for them, each and every one of them.
I want someone to stand up for me, too, and recognize that teachers cannot fix everything. I want administration and politicians (forget about the test makers who influence all of the above decision making) to realize that kids are not numbers. They are not test scores. Those scores, no matter how high or low they fall on an arbitrary scale, are not going to make successful people. Success should have nothing to do with teaching and becoming an adult.
Compassion should be our outcome. And I believe academics will fall in line if our kids are compassionate and love themselves and believe in themselves. Good test scores alone will never, ever deliver that.
I guess I am, after all, in a daily battle for social justice. And I can’t fix everything.
The Other Ways and the Enneagram
Reading through the other Christian ways of living that were presented at the meeting, I see myself during my life moving through the Contemplative and the Holiness Ways at different times. I have never been called to the Charismatic Way, nor the Evangelical Way.
The Underground will eventually explore personality types through the Enneagram.
I took the free Enneagram test and I came out with a perfectly tied score between 4 and 6. After some discussion, it was strongly suggested that I pay the ten dollars and do the extended test. I did.
My results: 4 squeaked ahead of 6 by one point. I am a 4 and 6.
I clearly see myself in both type descriptions. I will delve deeper into the Enneagram trying to understand myself with more compassion and acceptance and love.
Self-care, you know.
Until then, I believe I have more than enough material to discern for the next few weeks until we meet again.