I taught an after-school class yesterday, as I do on a regular basis. In this class sat 13 fabulous girls in a small suburb outside of one of the most well-known cities in a mid-sized state in the northeastern part of the country. This time around, these girls range from 3rd-6th grade—many of them have been constants in my classes for years. I love them all and they own a very large piece of my heart.
I have a few girls in the class who are very vocal about their love of starting class off with Angel Cards (yes, some parts of my class could be considered kind of new-agey) and I actually love how the activity encourages them to think, be in the moment, and be in tune to not only their feelings, but the messages that crop up from Universe/Spirit/Source/The Unseen every single day. I think it helps the kids know that even though there are many things in this world that are bigger than them, they are in control of how they interpret life around them. So, I brought the cards with me yesterday and we did what we always do: the girls pick a card from the deck, read the message, reflect on what it might mean to them at that very moment, and then we go around the room sharing what the message was and why we think it is showing up in our lives at this time. I participate, too, because you are never to old to be introspective, curious, and thoughtful. Up until yesterday, all of the discussions had been innocent, age appropriate, and devoid of anything alarming or concerning.
Drink fresh water: I used to drink soda all the time, but I switched to water and my acne cleared up, so I think this means I should keep it up.
Get sleep and take time to rest: I have so many sleepovers coming up and they can be crazy, so I think this is reminding me that I need to sleep because I get really grouchy, and one time I flipped a table over because I was so mad at my mom when I was tired.
Be with people who make you happy: I think I am getting this because I am in a fight with a friend right now and the whole thing is making me sad.
Think Happy Thoughts: I might be getting this because I have a lot of tests coming up and I can be really hard on myself, especially because I am so bad at math.
And, sometimes, the kids have no idea what the correlation is between the message and their life and so I encourage them to simply keep the message in their heart and carry it with them because the messages sometimes come before the lesson or situation.
- “I know they are in France now, but I hear they are coming for us next, so I have bad dreams about what could happen to me and my family.”
- “I don’t think anyone can keep us safe.”
- “The news scares me so much, so my family won’t put it on the TV.”
- “I worry about stuff like this all the time.”
- “What’s ISIS?”
And, my heart quite literally broke into a million tiny pieces. You guys, these are our children! They are small and vulnerable and innocent and exposed to so much—regardless of how much we try to shield them from the world’s pain—and many of them are so, so afraid. I am a teacher and and artist and a coach and a hug-giver. So, I was quick on my feet and I did what I thought was the best thing to do: Where part of me wanted to redirect the conversation and keep the class light and fluffy, I let them voice their concerns and fears and worries because I firmly believe that all kids need as many safe places as possible to express themselves unabashedly and without judgment. Kids are shushed too often as it is, so they really appreciate the opportunity to have their voices heard. When they asked me, point blank, if I was afraid, part of me wanted to share that, yes, I am afraid—not about ISIS or terrorism, specifically—but about our collective loss of humanity and empathy. But instead, I told them that I work really, really hard to not live my life in fear because when the fear sucks up all the room in my heart and mind, then there isn’t as much room for happiness and love. Because that is also true, and it’s really the only thing they needed to hear from me right then. Afraid, not afraid. And/both. And, when they wanted to keep focusing on the bad guys and the bad things, I worked to redirect them. I told them that even though there are people in the world who do evil things, there are SO MANY MORE people who do good things and are there to help and protect. I suggested that they start thinking about the helpers instead of the evil people when they are feeling fearful or unsure. And, we pondered why there is never good news on tv and how awesome it would be if there were only good news stations and they reported on all of the good things happening in the world. Then a girl was inspired to share a story she heard about a woman on the subway who saw a homeless woman with no shoes. It was cold and she felt terrible that this woman had no shoes, so she started talking to her and discovered that they shared the same shoe size. So, she took off her expensive shoes right then and there and gave them to that woman because she knew as soon as she exited the train, she could buy a new pair. Honestly, that story brought a tear to my eye, so I ended the conversation with an emphasis on faith and love and the goodness in humanity. Thanks, Mr. Rogers—you taught me well. We made art after that — lots and lots of art. They settled down and grew calm and focused and their fears grew smaller, if even for only two hours, so that their joy and creativity could emerge.
When, I think about it, that’s all ANY of us really need right now. To settle down, grow calm, and perhaps notice something beautiful (or BE something beautiful) so that our joy, creativity, love, and wonder can reemerge. To redirect our thoughts when they grow dark. To turn off and tune out the noise when it begins to weigh us down and we start to live in a way that isn’t in alignment with who we were meant to be. To offer a controlled and safe space in which people can express themselves and feel heard (FYI: the world is a pretty contentious place right now, but you don’t have to agree with someone in order to make them feel heard). To use our hands and our hearts to create something beautiful, whether it is a canvas, a scarf, a meal, a conversation, or a hug.
I am still pretty upset that so many of our children fear the world around them and they are privy to so much adult information that should not reach their ears. Most of this is information that we, as adults, are unable to even comprehend or process. I am sad that there is so much pain, so much senseless violence, so many lives extinguished unnecessarily, and so many people feel that they have no choice but to resort to those tactics for a cause or to feel heard or because they need help that they haven’t yet gotten. But, I am also extremely happy that I get to be one of the “helpers,” and overjoyed that the kids who find their way into my programs feel safe enough with me—and safe enough in my classes—to unabashedly share their unfiltered thoughts and fears. It is one of my greatest privileges to be able to do this kind of work for a living. Upset/happy. And/both.
Let’s all try a little harder, in our own little ways, to be helpers from here on out. Our children deserve to inherit a kinder, gentler world in which they can thrive.