Kind. Smart. Important.

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“You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” Character Aibileen Clark’s words from The Helpwere the only words I could think of as I substitute taught in some very special classes today. Because those words are the only ones making sense in my head right now, this blog post is not polished or eloquent or cohesive or poetic or even long enough.

But I couldn’t not write about the high school boy much bigger than I, the one who spoke sometimes in the soft angelic voice and sometimes with the too-deep demonic voice who works daily on counting to one hundred and concentrates hard on coloring the apple red and the ball green and the chicken yellow. He dirties his pants weekly and must change into his gym clothes while waiting for the clothes he came to school in to wash and dry. He has a bad habit of sticking his fingers in any crack or crevice of his body. He reminds me hourly that my name is Mrs. Kiefer, that I will be back to see him on Friday, and Friday is the day that we will eat sausage pizza in the cafeteria and his dad will pick him up for the weekend and he will get to feed the ducks. And I hate myself for dreading Friday just like I hate myself for hating my imperfect face and brain and body and imperfect smile as I wipe the string of drool from another high school boy’s open mouth for the hundredth time. He’s had a heart attack. He’s had a stroke. And his open mouth still smiles while I vainly wonder for myself, “What price beauty?” Lord, make me a better person. Make me want to go back when I go back on Friday. Make me thankful. Make me see.  
 I couldn’t not write about the handsome high school boy who has frequent seizures and his own rocking chair, a padded room, and a helmet. He insists on holding my hand, drawing pictures only on blue construction paper, and has a reminder taped to his desk that states specific names of people who make mistakes (and it’s okay). He can make mistakes, and it is okay. His mom makes mistakes. His dad makes mistakes. His brother and sister. His teachers. His friends. And it’s okay. And there’s a smiley face on the reminder to reinforce the “okay-ness.” And I want to make a sign for myself. There is no reason to panic when we make mistakes. Forgive, forgive. Forgive myself and stay calm. I realize we are not much different at all, he and I.

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I couldn’t not write about the spirited high school girl learning how to measure with a ruler and subtract numbers and tell the time. Our enthusiasm bonded us. “We’re going to read this graph now, okay?” I said.  She re-chirped my “okay” each time sounding like a peppy cheerleader who shouts, “Ready? Oh-kay!!” And she always smiled. She smiled during reading. She smiled during math. She smiled when it was time for her job. She proudly told me she “goes to work” each day in the cafeteria collecting and washing the dirty dishes. I want that joy. I want her wisdom and joy she finds in dirty dishes, in doing whatever task before her, in helping and taking care of people. These new dear ones of mine, they teach me. They break my heart and heal it simultaneously. They teach me how to be kind. They teach me how to be smart. They teach me how to be important.   

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