My cousin reminded me the other day of one of my grandfather’s favorite sayings. “There are only two kinds of people in the world: the ones you like, and the ones you don’t know very well.”
This week I put my grandfather’s wisdom to the test. I began conferencing one-on-one with my students during work time. There is so much I didn’t know.
There is the boy I’ve been calling the wrong name, all month.
There is the cage fighter who misses school for long periods when he gets kicked too hard in the head. He writes like he fights–with determination and passion. In torrents of beauty and quick one-two punches that make it impossible to breath.
There is the girl whose parents smash her belongings when she displeases them.
The foster child of 15 years and innumerable homes who has just been adopted.
The immigrant who speaks a language I’ve never heard of. He’s been adopted too–at the age of eight, because his parents could no longer feed him. He walks the neighbor’s dog, and whenever he earns ten dollars, he sends the money home to his birth parents. He doesn’t feel like he has any stories to tell.
The boy who walks around alternately looking shell-shocked and then abruptly erupts into being the loudest of class clowns. Court issues consume his time and attention. When I called home to let a parent know about a spectacular essay he wrote, the woman who answered sort of grunted in response. When I asked him the next day what his mother did for a living, he said she left 16 years ago. He doesn’t know about his dad.
The girl who slammed into a parked car, and can’t believe I want to read more about it.
The girl who just wants to keep her son safe.
The stories go on.
And those are just the ones they told me. Powerful, frustrating, heartbreaking, funny. Real.
I wonder how I could have ever not known their names.