Tonight I stopped at the grocery store to pick up some stuff for my mom on my way home. I walked out right behind an elderly gentleman who was struggling to walk. At first, I just said hello as I passed him, and kept walking to my car. Then, I had an unmistakable feeling that I should go back and offer to help him put his groceries away (If I was a good person, I probably wouldn't have walked past him without offering to help to begin with!). When I got to his car, I noticed that on his license plate, there was some sort of emblem indicating that he had received a purple heart for his military service. I helped him put the last of his groceries in his car, and he thanked me. I said, "No, thank you for your service to our country." His eyes were wet with tears as he said, "It was a hard time, but we got through it." He then proceeded to tell me a story about how his scriptures had literally saved his life when he was serving in Korea. Then he gave me a copy of his story, which he just had in his back pocket--I guess he has copies of his story with him at all times. For the full text, click here. We talked for a minute more about his time in the military and the struggles he encountered. I again thanked him for serving, and then he said, "Thank you for listening to the ramblings of an old man. And thank you for expressing your thanks for my service. It means a lot to an old soldier."
I walked away with tears of my own in my eyes. When I got inside my car, I immediately said a prayer and thanked my Heavenly Father for this sweet man who had sacrificed so much in defense of the country he loves. I thanked the Lord that He prompted me to talk to this man, because I had been truly blessed by the encounter. Last of all, I prayed that this man, who I suspect was a widower and possibly very lonely, would find comfort. I prayed that he would find people to share his story with. Because all he really wanted was to be heard.
It is precisely this concept of being heard that has been on my mind as of late. I have just thought about how important it is for us, as human beings, to feel like someone is listening to us. Sometimes, we just want someone to know that we're having a hard time--even if that person can't really do much to help us. We just need to know that someone is aware of us and of our pain. We just need to know that someone is listening.
The past few weeks, I have gone to historic sites in Hiram and Kirtland, Ohio, Nauvoo, Illinois, and Salt Lake City. For some reason, I am a gigantic nerd, and absolutely LOVE going to historic sites, especially when they have to do with the history of the LDS Church. But I think one of the reasons I love historic sites so much is because I think every story deserves to be told--or rather, every person deserves to have his or her story told. Everyone has something to offer. No one should ever feel obsolete. This is also probably the reason I love reading historical novels, biographies, and autobiographies.
This is also the reason I have decided to stop teaching and go back to school for a Master's Degree in Counseling. This was one of THE hardest decisions I have ever made. My heart still hurts when I think about the fact that I will not be a teacher in the fall. Every time I think about my students or picture their faces in my mind, I question my decision. How can I leave them? But then I picture what those same students look like when they are scared. I can see in my mind's eye the look in their eyes when they are exceptionally sad. I can almost feel the wetness of their tears on my shoulder when they have had experiences too big for their hearts to handle. And then I remember that these kids, and children like them, deserve to be heard.
The past 2 years of teaching have taught me SO much. I have learned how to teach reading, writing, math, oral conversation, and even grammar--although how well I taught grammar is questionable. But most of all, I learned that sometimes a child's ability to learn is made harder by matters of the heart. How can we expect a student to learn how to read when he just visited his dad in prison yesterday, and is feeling all sorts of emotions that he can't quite explain or deal with? Or, how can we expect a child to focus on writing when she's not sure if she'll get to eat dinner that night because her mom sometimes just doesn't come home? It is for this reason that I have chosen to leave this profession and gain more education. I hope to one day work with children who have suffered abuse, neglect, or have dealt with health crises. I want to give these children a voice. I want them to have someone to talk to when they just want to say, "I hope you know, I had a hard time."
The last day of school a couple of weeks ago was a very sad one. There were many tears shed--by myself and by my students. At the end of the day, we sat in a circle, and I went around the circle and told every single one of them what I loved about them. Their eyes lit up as I let all of them know that they were important, valued, and loved more than they knew. At the end of that time, one of my boys raised his hand and said, "Ms. Keddington, can we put our hands in and say, 'Together Forever!'?" I said that of course we could do that. So we did.
I will miss these kids soooooo much. They have taught me about love, patience, kindness, hard work, perseverance, and determination. So of course we will be together forever--they are now apart of me.