It's the month of gratitude, and I've been posting my daily gratitude on social media. I am fortunate that I have a choice, each day, what gratitude I will share. My daily routine, every day of the year (except of course, for exceptions), is to wake up to my gratitude.
I haven't been posting in the morning though, because I have wanted to see how the day transpires, to see what organic gratitude most stands out. This morning, I thought I'd end up posting my gratitude for veterans. I knew what I wanted to say in thanks, but I also knew I wanted it to be more specific than thanking our vets, those I know, those of my family members, those we have lost.
And so I am. But I have too much of a story about what transpired today to simply post my gratitude on social media. I have a story about today. I have a story about me and my students, and I have a story about how our empathy rose today, for a particular group of veterans.
We read the story, "Stop the Sun" by Gary Paulsen. It's a story I've read with my 8th graders for years. It's a compelling story about a 13 year old young man whose father suffers from PTSD or "Vietnam Syndrome". This boy does not understand his father, and his father is closed off from his past. He is so normal, being embarrassed about his father's "strangeness", torn between his confusion and his desire to know his father's pain and help him.
We discussed Vietnam and PTSD prior to reading it, and then we read it together. We all read it as we listened to the audio recording.
I'm going to interrupt the story here for some backstory. I woke up this morning, thinking, as I said earlier, about my gratitude. I thought about veterans, and I thought about veterans with PTSD.
I've suffered from PTSD for the past four years, since Danny got so sick and almost died. It was the daily and hourly stressors of the ICU experience with Danny's battle. I am much better now, but I still have it. I think I'll always have it. Time and lots of therapeutic help have helped, but I feel like I'll always have it.
So, back to my classroom today. When, in the story, the Vietnam vet talked about how he could not go there, back to his trauma and how he would not let his son go there, I became overwhelmed. My throat closed, my shoulders shrunk in, my head pounded, and I knew I needed to cry. I needed to cry not weepy tears, but full on release of tension tears. I slipped to the back of the room, and I let myself cry silently, and I pulled in deep slow breathes, and I looked at my teaching partner who, thank God, saw me, and just took over.
We asked our students to write responses to the story. Emily and I both wrote ours as they wrote theirs. We linked ours to the agenda, so that they could read ours after they wrote theirs. The room stayed so quiet. We were all in deep reflection.
In my response, I wrote that the very little bit of trauma I experienced, in relation to veterans of all wars, made me humbled and empathetic and completely grateful for people to give their lives beyond all of our comprehensions for us to live the lives we have.
I also spoke about my own PTSD. I'd shared this before with my students. I ask students to risk all the time, every day. I ask them to show themselves, be vulnerable, take risks in writing, take risks in how they express themselves. I ask them to do things I am willing to do.
That is not different because I went through a traumatic experience. I share my writing, my fears, my thoughts. My moments where I show my deepest humanness ( I will not call it frailty, for it is not), are my most profound moments in the classroom. It is not profound because I shared; it is profound because they all share. They all write, think, reflect. We are all so equal. It is about utter honesty.
And back to today. Our students responded so deeply to the story. Their responses were about how moved they were and included these thoughts: "I'm so sad", "I'm humbled", "I've never thought about this", "I'll never think about any of this the same way again", "I need to go back to my own writing because this makes me too sad", "I had no idea", "I'll try to find a way to honor a veteran".
And many responded deeply to my reaction. One student talked about her grandfather, a trauma surgeon in Vietnam, and his story moved me to tears so that once again, I could not talk. Later, that student approached me to apologize for making me cry.
I assured that student that making me cry was nothing to apologize about. I told her how lucky she was to have such a hero for a grandparent, and that his story made me humbled, but I was also sad for all his trauma. Her grandfather was a hero. I thanked her for that story. She thanked me.
I had many students tell me stories today. I looked into a lot of eyes today.
I have a lot of gratitude, and today, my gratitude spans generations, quite literally. I have gratitude for the gift of my profession. I am a teacher, and I get to learn every day from so many hearts and minds.
And much bigger: I have gratitude for all the soldiers, medics, surgeons, nurses, volunteers of wartime.
My gratitude: all of our veterans.
My goal: we don't forget.