“This is why she hates Alabaster: not because he is more powerful, not even because he is crazy, but because he refuses to allow her any of the polite fictions and unspoken truths that have kept her comfortable, and safe, for years.” – N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season
“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.” -Kahlil Gibran, “On Pain”
My friends, I’m a strange mix. I’m a melancholy board game geek. I often giggle, and when I cry, I shake. I believe in the best in all of us. I’m horrified and terrified by what I see. I get really angry: at my students for not learning, at adults for not remembering with open hearts, at myself for not helping enough. (I don’t think that anger helps). I’m often hopeful: in a smile, in a kind word, in the “worst” of my students I see the possibilities of a brave mind, a deep heart, and a new friend. I find, in a rock picked up from the roadside, all the beauty and proof and truth I need to know that there is a world, that we can stand and learn and listen in it. I see that we often fall down. I see that the same earth that bruises me gives me a place where I can stand (or sit, or run, or dance) with you. I’m grateful. And sometimes I giggle.
Sometimes it seems our culture recommends (or even promises) a life without pain. Okay, okay, I’ll go ahead and own that–sometimes I want a life without pain. Sometimes I think I should be able to find one. A life without heartache, without horror, without the great hurt of seeing that we could be so kind to each other–and seeing that, so often, we aren’t. But perhaps my pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses my understanding. We talk about broken things as bad things–broken records, broken hearts, broken bones. But if eggshells didn’t break, then the new bird could never try it’s wings. Perhaps my current understanding is the shell I’ve lived in. Perhaps the cracks I feel in my heart and my head, even when they hurt, especially when they hurt, are the cracks through which a better world shines.
Pushing others to feel that pain is more ticklish, more dangerous, more confusing. As a teacher, sometimes I want to do that: I want to take students and ask them to see beyond “polite” (comfortable, safe) fictions to some of the cruelties and insanities of our world. Sometimes, as a teacher of high schoolers, I think it’s not fair for me to do that–can I ask a student to face something that they’re not ready to see? On the other hand, as a community, do we get to wait until we’re “ready”?
I don’t know. It hurts wondering. But then again, perhaps that pain isn’t bad. Things break. Things need to break, things become themselves while breaking. Broken bones are sometimes rebroken so they can be reset. Storms break. Day breaks. Waves break with a rush of sound, power, and laughter. A fever breaks, though not until it’s gotten hot enough to help us. Sometimes we must break the silence. An acorn sprout, beginning to grow, breaks through the acorn. There is a pain that goes with breaking. And then there are new roots, new possibilities. New days.