Today I am writing in response to an article by Neal Tognazzini in this Sunday’s Week in Review section of the New York Times. The gist of the article is about how we hurry through life, mostly taking things for granted, until something happens to give us pause and rethink the way we’ve been living. This has happened to so many of us.
For me “the something” was fourth-stage metastasized cancer. Four summers ago, I had just retired and was looking forward to my new life when it was suddenly hijacked by an extreme cancer diagnosis. I survived… and like so many survivors, was determined to never again take anything for granted. This article provoked some new thoughts on taking things for granted and how important it is to be able to put some things on the back burner so we can live our lives.
These things we take for granted can include a family we care about and that cares about us; a comfortable home that no one is trying to take from us; a job that affords us a paycheck to buy the things we want and need from week to week, year to year; the luxury of coming home after work to have a tasty, healthy meal and a couple hours to do what brings us pleasure….taking a walk, hanging out with family members, watching our favorite shows on tv.
So, what if you had none of the things I’ve mentioned? No possibility of a satisfying, well paying job in the near future or perhaps in your lifetime. No idea where certain members of your family are, and no hope of finding them. You do not own a home and never will be able to afford to. You are not even sure your “home” will be there when you return to it. Nourishing food is out of the question due to droughts, famine, or an ongoing combat situation. These are all extremely disorienting factors in the lives of so many people.
Tognazzini, writes about learning he has squamous cell cancer, but will survive:
“I came to realize that being oriented–having one’s bearings–requires being located somewhere, and that being located somewhere requires having some ground to stand on. What we take for granted is that ground.”
These words caused me to think about the thousands of children around the world who have left their homes with their families in search of “having some ground to stand on.” Many refugees have lost family members and/or their homes, however humble they might have been. They are stateless…without location. They belong nowhere. These children can never take a meal for granted, often don’t know where they are going or if they will have shelter when they get there. They are at the mercy of climate change, failed economies, malevolent leaders, uneducated parents, global indifference. There is no way they can imagine a future without loss and suffering. There is no guarantee they will find any ground to stand on.
In the coming days, weeks, months and years, teachers will encounter children and parents who do not have a safe, secure home; who cannot take the next meal for granted; who do not know when they will next see a loved one torn from them. For many kids, going to school in America is the first time in their lives they will have consistency and “some ground to stand on.” As teachers we must transcend politics and prejudice. We must model compassion and concern for others. We must make an effort to help the disenfranchised. By providing support, encouragement and a safe environment for learning we can make a huge difference in someone’s life. Every human being deserves this.