Friday morning, I woke up to another tidal wave of fresh devastation, with news of even more shootings, leaving my heart broken and heavy for our country.
How was I supposed to teach my nine students? Should I ignore the violence or address it? Could my middle schoolers handle such a serious conversation?
Each class session, I begin with an inspiring quote from a successful person. When I reached my classroom, I knew it was time to to find a more sober quote.
I chose, "Kindness is a language the deaf can hear and the blind can see," by Mark Twain. And then I silently prayed for grace.
My students filed in as usual, chatty and giggly. Would my plan work? Should I abandon it?
I asked someone to read out the quote and explain what it meant to them. A few raised their hands.
"Everyone can understand kindness."
"You don't need eyes or ears to get or give kindness. You feel it."
My heart lightened a bit at the purity in their responses.
Next, I asked them if they had been following the news. Every single hand shot into the air. I asked a few of them to share what they'd seen.
I shuddered hearing the horrors from the mouths of children.
I asked, "What do you think about all of this violence?"
"It makes me sad," Chloe said simply.
I went on, "Do you think that you guys can help?"
Immediately, their heads shook, "no."
"Why not?" I pressed.
Tommy answered, "We're just kids. And that stuff is happening far away. Nobody would listen to us. Maybe if we were older."
I looked each of them in the eye. "Do you think one person can change the world?"
Slowly, a few of them shook their heads "no."
But one brave hand was raised. "I don't think one person can change the world by themselves. But I think one person can cause a reaction that can change the world."
"Yes!" I cheered. "Let's build on that. How many people have you come into contact with today?" They each counted, most of them reaching about twenty people, including parents, nannies, friends, teachers, janitors, administration, etc.
"You have had the power to cause a positive or negative reaction with twenty people today," I told them. "How did it go?"
Sarah raised her hand. "Well, my mom made me happy today because she was so happy. So, then I tried to make my friends happy when I got to school."
I asked others to share stories in which people had caused them to become happy or unhappy.
They each recounted tales of friends or teammates who had helped or hurt situations by being kind or unkind.
Looking at them, all I saw was hope. I saw their potential. I saw their ability to shape their own futures, as well as the future of our nation. I needed them to know.
"You don't have to wait to make a difference until you're an adult. You don't have to wait until you graduate college or get a great job. You make a difference every day, whether positive or negative."
Their eyes grew large. Some of them believed me. Some didn't.
I turned back to our quote on the board.
"Why are we talking about this today?" I asked them.
There was silence until a quiet voice squeaked, "Because if we're kind we can change the world." I couldn't help but smile.
I asked them to write down two ways they were going to be kind that day.
Many of their answers included being nice to their younger siblings and petting their dogs. But then one boy raised his hand.
"I will listen to others, and I will respect other peoples' opinions when they are different from mine."
It was as though the sun burst through the clouds. In his innocence, he had managed to grasp what the adults of our country are desperately and dangerously missing. His answer told me everything my aching soul wanted to hear. His answer told me that things are going to be okay. That this is not the end. That there are those with bright minds and determined hope rising up.
So, let's mourn. Let's lament. Let's sound the battle cry against injustice and hate. But let's not despair.
The story isn't over. Our story can rewrite itself, beginning with one simple word: kindness.
*The names of these students have been changed.