Kate and I have had a few conversations recently about the manner in which we feel we are changing. And not just our habits or our routines, but how our souls are changing. I doubt it is possible to jump so purposefully and passionately into the lives of other people and not experience a changing of one's own soul. Teaching is undoubtedly such a jump--and inner-city teaching is more of a free fall, at that.
I have never had to dig so deep, no never. I have never been so challenged to understand the perceptions and held-truths of another person, nay, 30 other people at one time in one classroom for 50 minutes, then again 7 other times that day. Kate and I fight monsters all day. And I'm not even referring to our kids -- I'm referring to the human walls that separate us from understanding another human being, or more specifically, the monster walls that prevent our kids from catching our vision and the walls that prevent us from seeing why our kids act the way they do. Now, our kids are very nearly monsters to us, don't get me wrong. I don't know how many times Kate has been called a bitch and I've been referred to as "aggravating" or worse in the past month, but it's a lot. And this gets me to what I was trying to say about our souls being changed: your soul starts to change and harden when you battle monsters.
“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”
This is the essence of our many conversations about our souls. If you go to battle long enough, you lose the softness and delicacy of the maritime soul. I've thought a lot about that as I've gone to school this week and placed my heart and soul on their desks, and watched my students handle it brutally.
Because to influence a person is to give him one's own soul.
My point is, I don't think there is a way to escape such an endeavor as teaching a troubled soul, without letting "the abyss [gaze] back into you." You have to put your soul into it. You have to let your body and mind ache. You probably have to let your soul take on some of that "troubledness", some of that misdirected anger, some of that neglected sorrow, some of that learned cruelty, in order to fully understand and empathize. Sometimes I wonder if the Savior of all mankind, when He took on a fleshy body, ever found Himself accidentally mimicking the behaviors and personality vices of those he associated with and loved so much. I bet He would have chuckled to Himself in those moments--the Son of God allowing His soul to be influenced so deeply by the souls around Him. Who knows, but I like to think He loved so deeply that His own soul would not have been able to escape such smudges and smears from time to time. How can one soul reach out to touch another without both receiving the other's mark?
The work on the soul is fast and slow. It hardens swiftly and softens slow. It takes a thousand entreaties toward it for a moment of softening to show. Perhaps like a girl in one of your classes who frequently yells at and insults you, but then warmly introduces her dad to you at a football game :)
Here's to the journey from darkness to light for both me and my kids. It will be confusing and hard, and our souls will smudge and smear against the childhoods of troubled souls, but we'll make it to the light and we'll make sure our kids make it, too.