I always find it funny when I hear something in the news that says it is a real, “human interest story,” as if being human weren’t interesting in and of itself. There is a sort of funny irony to having to be told what is or isn’t “interesting,” but I sometimes think that in our over-stimulated, multi-sensory, “Google-it” savvy world, we start to lose our own ability to gauge our feelings, and in essence, do need to be told, or at least reminded how to act or respond.
I think it is because of this general lack-luster show of emotion that I appreciate individuals so much – not the posers, but the true individuals. It is sad to say, but a true original person is hard to find sometimes. In the world of middle school, usually kids are trying to be different, but in exactly the same way! Whether they are the outspoken jokers (waiting to be noticed), the goody-two-shoes, answer everything types (desperate for attention) or the shifty-eyed, silent ones (equally afraid of being seen and not being seen) all desire is the same really … recognition.
On a random (but soon to be connected note) I tend to nickname my students. I do this for two reasons, the first being, sadly, that I am horrible at names. But secondly, when a student does something that sticks out in my mind, they are branded forever with a witty (and always pre-approved) nickname they carry for the rest of the year as a kind of “right of passage.”
On the first day of school this year, I had an adorable young man wear a bow tie to school. I couldn’t help but think, wow … here is a true original. It takes a special kind of young man to pull off a bow tie, but he did it! I remember thinking, how cool and self-assured he’d have to be to stand out in a crowd of hoodies and graphic T’s. He wore another tie on the second day … and the third. Needless to say, by day four, he was affectionately dubbed, and now forever known as: Bow Tie. He even signs it on his papers! He’s different, he’s cool – why can’t we all be like that?
A character of Daisy Goode’s once said, “I think you would like to be seen instead of always being looked at.” Seen … for who we really are, not who others label us as, or stereotype us as, but what we identify as our “true” self. Wouldn’t it be great to be seen?
Another day, another student. This one not so easy. Golden eyes, a hesitant half-smile and a black hoodie, this boy tried to blend in, to “fit.” He wore the traditional jeans, had gages in his ears, and acted nonchalant, but in a way that somehow cried out for attention (despite the undercurrent of bravado). A few weeks into the school year, the students were working on something independently, a “get to know me” project that I’d assigned, and he was struggling. When I asked him what was up, he shrugged, saying, “I’m just not sure what to say about myself.”
“The truth?” I’d suggested.
“Well,” he said, “My mom is white and my dad is Mexican, but I always sort of identify myself more with my Mexican heritage because my mom makes jokes about adopting me from there, and I don’t know,” he hesitated not looking at my eyes, “I guess it just gets old, you know?”
Truth? I didn’t. I’d never had to deal with cultural identity issues, but in that moment, I saw a boy who needed to be understood. On a pale yellow post-it note, I wrote, “Don’t worry about ‘what’ you are, focus on ‘who’ you are. That’s all that matters.” From that day on, he trusted me. He knew that, I didn’t “look” at him, I “saw” him, and that made all the difference.
Funny enough, he nicknamed me first, finding out that my favorite thing in the world was peanut butter, he started addressing me in the halls with a, “Hey PB,” to which I answer, “Sup Jelly?” Yesterday when we analyzed a story in class, he asked me to sit next to him. Today, he left a space and asked again. The best part about this connection is, I didn’t do anything … nothing but take interest in the story of child no one would ever recognize as “news-worthy.” This boy is most-likely fairly invisible in his other classes; I know this because he almost tried to be in mine, but luckily, I saw him.
I wonder if there is a person in your life like this? If there is someone who might never be labeled as a “human interest story” whose story you could unfold? It is easy to write off those we think don’t want us or need us … those without bow ties for us to recognize and admire, but like Bill Cosby stated, “Every closed eye is not sleeping, and every open eye is not seeing.” Who are we missing in-between? I’ll bet everyone’s story becomes a whole lot more interesting when WE take a moment to be human.