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Monday, September 7, 2009

Somewhere in Between

There are a lot of “in-betweens” in life. There’s “in-between” jobs, “in-between” places, and “in-between times”. And perhaps the most “in-between” of all, the time between childhood and adulthood. And smack down in the middle of that transition period is Middle School.

Admittedly, High School, and to a lesser extent, college, are a part of that transition, yet I always felt that there was a definitely a leaning towards adulthood during those parts of my life.

But in Middle School there was no sense of leaning one way or another, no sense of movement. It was a stagnant period in life when I was neither one thing nor the other. Neither child, nor adult, nor moving towards one or the other. And I will openly admit I hated Middle School. It was the worse three years of my life. And so, when I got a job this year as a part-time tutor at a Middle School, I was a bit apprehensive. How was I going to relate to students that were in a stage of life I’d tried my best to forget?

It turns out my fears were un-founded, and the students answered that question for me. I’ve come to have a new appreciation for what seemed to me a stagnant period in my life. I’ve discovered the beauty of this strange transition period, where you have come to realize that the world can be a hard place to live, but have yet to let go of childhood dreams.

Many of my students come from rough backgrounds and one-parent homes. Their families struggle to make ends meet, and they deal with the anger they feel towards the adults in their lives who have let them down. They have none of the naïveté of childhood. Their world is rough, and sometimes cruel. But they have not left childhood completely. They still dream big, and seek wonder and beauty.
I’ve met students who want to be poets, actors, and of course professional sports players. Others want to be doctors, lawyers, and nurses. And if asked why, not one of them will say it’s because of the money. They want to do what they love, or to help other people. It’s a kind of innocence of motivation, one that is all too often lost as we age.

And while my heart breaks at some of the glimpses I’ve had into my students’ lives, at the same time, I’m filled with the hope of their dreams. And if I could choose one thing for them to learn from me, if I could pick the one lesson I hope stays with them, it’s to keep that “innocence of motivation”. To pursue a vocation, a calling, not a career. And to believe that the darkness in their world is not all there is. That is what they have right now, in this in-between time in their lives. A loss of naïveté, without a loss of hopefulness. And I pray that never changes. 

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