Humanities Adjunct Instructor
She was absent again, and I assumed she was gone for good. But, she had been an engaging presence. Maybe, too engaged. She was always repeating the assertions I made as if what I said needed her validation. And, the class didn’t appreciate her endless interruptions. So, maybe it wasn’t so bad for her to be gone.
And then, the door opened and our missing student was no longer missing. I wanted to project a stern glance to communicate my disapproval of her absences, but on this day I felt prompted to say, “We missed you.” It was a little white lie told in a religion course and the class was aware of my transgression.
The class ended. She remained behind. “I messed up”, she said, “I didn’t stay sober. They kicked me out of my treatment house. I’ve been living on the streets for over a week. I missed your class. I messed up.”
She begged me to keep her in my course. I could see that she didn’t necessarily need religion, but needed a place to find some rest. She needed a place where she could be someone other than an addicted, homeless nobody for two hours. She needed my space.
And now, it all made sense. Her repetition of my words, her endless interruptions, were never about validating a self-inflated ego but was some form of validating that she was still a person, a self, an existing individual. She was latching onto words of hope and encouragement, repeating them, preserving them in an empty space within her.
We spoke briefly about AA Higher Power, new beginnings, second chances, and taking one day at a time. Maybe, empty platitudes, but our religions have long said they are substantiated by more than mere words in a cruel world. She returned the following class with good news. She had been reinstated in the residential rehabilitation center.
The semester continued. While teaching, I began to linger for a moment over sutras and scriptures that spoke to hope, grace, courage, and self-forgiveness. I was definitely teaching to one student, but who knows…I may have been lightly tap dancing on the tip of an iceberg.
And now I know that to prepare a student to engage tomorrow, sometimes we need to get them through today.