If there is one thing I try to share with my students throughout the year, it’s the idea that each one of them has a story: that you can never know someone’s story just by looking at them, that it is one of life’s greatest gifts to get to hear other people’s stories, and that it is a privilege for me to get to know theirs throughout the course of the year. My hope is that they will take the time to really know one another and build a community of understanding, respect, and kindness.
And then I had a moment where I met a protagonist I wanted every student to know:
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: We all want everything to be okay (page 6).
The only way I can navigate through my life is because of the 98 percent that every life has in common (page 77).
In my experience, desire is desire, love is love. I have never fallen in love with a gender. I have fallen for individuals. I know this is hard for people to do, but I don’t understand why it’s so hard, when it’s so obvious (page 142).
A handful of my students were raving about Everyday by David Levithan in our weekly “Friday Favorites” five minute share and after hearing the premise, I knew I wanted to check it out. The protagonist, A, is essentially a soul (without a gender): s/he wakes up in a new body everyday while maintaining a fully developed sense of self–just no physical body with which to express him/herself. This is one of the most thought provoking and creative young adult books I’ve ever read. It touches on so many young adult emotional-development issues, but not in a preachy way: the protagonist authentically brings them up and because his/her life experience is so different than the average human, and based on what I’ve witnessed in my classroom, I think young adult readers will just soak it in.
But I also found a section that spoke into everything I’ve been thinking about lately: maintaining a sense of self, of peace, of purpose. He falls for the girlfriend of a [horrid] guy whose body he occupies for a day and then ends up maintaining a relationship with her–his/her first ever–though each day s/he is in a new body. S/he sees the stress she deals with and the broken, hurtful relationship she is in. When s/he unexpectedly wakes up in her body one day, he decides to try to give her the gift of peace in solitude and goes for a long hike. The description he uses is amazing:
I’ve decided to give Rhiannon the satisfaction of being fully alone. Not the lethargy of lying on the couch or the dull monotony of drifting off in math class. Not the midnight wandering in a sleeping house or the pain of being left in a room after the door has been slameed shut. This alone is not a variation of any of those. This alone is its own being. Feeling the body, but not using it to sidetrack the mind. Moving with purpose, but not in a rush. Conversing not with the person next to you, but with all of the elements. Sweating and aching and climbing and making sure not to fall, not to get too lost, but lost enough…When no one else is around, we open ourselves to the quieter astonishments that enormity can offer (197-198).
I meet monthly with some friends and we talk about the creative pursuits in our lives and what we are learning about ourselves in the process. It has become a treasured time for me. My November wasn’t as creative as I planned: I made some substitutions for painting and calligraphy in the name of stress and exhaustion and travel, which at the time seemed justifiable. I realized, though, that my substitutions weren’t the same, even though I was technically “doing nothing.” I realized once again that I need to spend intentional time opening myself “to the quieter astonishments that enormity can offer”–whether that enormity is staring at sky behind the branches of newly leafless trees, breathing in the scent of my Christmas tree, or taking out my paints and ink to let go and create.
Here’s to a beautiful winter season filled with beauty amidst the darkness.
(And here are some other winter thoughts in case you, too, struggle with the fact the sun goes down at 4:30, or just need some context and/or hope from someone who is often winter-hopeless).