I don’t know how to do this

I don’t know how to do this.

I worry that whatever I did say, would only make it worse. How do you help? Your students never stop being your students. You work with them days on end, through periods of intense frustration on either side, through times of amazing energy and excitement, to joy (graduation!) I’ve been teaching one way or another since about 2003. Some of my students have gotten married, had kids, got great jobs. Some spin their wheels, idly, not knowing how to move forward. Some have taken their own lives, or died in accidents.Some soldier on when all hell breaks loose around them, when their world is turned upside down through no fault of their own. You care about them all. But.

I don’t know how to do this.

It’s hard enough to handle the shit that happens to me, myself.  Or to see the path before my own kids and to know what kinds of rocks and weeds and rakes-in-the-grass lie in wait. Then you add all these other people who have entrusted some part of their lives to you. Every day, your students are not just people to whom you perform. Your life is entangled with theirs. Granted, it’s a weird kind of entanglement (that shock of recognition when they encounter you outside the appropriate setting, we’ve all experienced), but it exists. It persists. They are always your students. But.

I don’t know how to do this.

I don’t know how to help. “We’re not trained for this! We’re not mental health professionals!” we say, when what we fear for is our own mental health. I write this tonight, having read the things my students write, and I think, how much easier it would be to just retreat into my shell, to switch off, to harden. I don’t know how to do that, either, and so I get overwhelmed.

I don’t know how to do this.

You see people hurting, and you suspect that maybe, in this one small corner of the world, this one little bit where all is contained and sorted and regulated and boxed in, this thing your class, this is the one place where the right word could make the difference. Where it could keep things together for one more day. Where it won’t necessarily fix things, but it’ll certainly not make it worse. Where it would show a little bit of unexpected kindness. But.

There is no one thing I could say to make it better. Yet I marvel at these students’ strength, their determination, and in that, I find that maybe I do know how to do this. I don’t need to say anything; I just need to be.

To be present.

To be aware.

To be open.

I can do this.