Friday morning I was awake at 5am on an uninhabited 985-acre island preserve where I’d spent 4 days camping with twelve of my students. At 7:30am, we were on a lobster boat with a kind lobsterman who was transporting us back to the ferry on Swans. The porpoises broke the waves by us and we motored past a lighthouse, between buoys. I watched my students–twelve, thirteen, fourteen years old–and saw the four days we spent hiking, making fires, sleeping in tents, and cooking camp food. That these be memories they look back on.
The same day as campsites and lobster boats, I reached the day that leaves me with less than a week at my site as an AmeriCorps volunteer. We arrived at the EdGE Center, and the other camps are in full swing. We get hugged by the younger students after we arrive, and I would prefer not to love any of them, as that would make my goodbye easier, but I do. I hug them all. Who knew 1700+ hours of community service could do so much damage.
The damage is that awe I watch them with. How creative and open and loving they are. How they seem to have bubbles just inside their chests, which are constantly bursting into laughter. These are children that break into dances on the sidewalk in the sunshine. That light.
Everything is new to them. They say what their hearts feel. Most of the world is not yet experienced. My students tell jokes I know they’ll have heard 45times by the time they’re 23 but for them it’s maybe the 5th time so they’re still guffawing like they’ll never laugh that hard again or hear a joke that good, so I laugh like I’ve never heard it before either. I am mostly laughing from the joy they give me.
My co-workers teach me all the ways we can breathe their joy while changing their lives. A year of playing in the office. Last week, I sat in on a meeting where my co-workers tried to express to a donor from Boston what our program means to our kids. I keep my mouth shut because it’s the only way the tears will stay in. I know if I say a word, my voice will break. I know what they do is make the lives of children better, and I’ve seen it every day for a year. The holistic child, attention to their hunger, their homes, their needs, their strengths.
Their strengths. Letting them shine. On a boat out to Marshall Island, two boys who spent most of the year struggling to behave in school talk to me about their own boats, their trips out to sea lobstering. Their element. Everything they are good at becomes obvious when they are hands-on, wrestling tents upright and helping each other gather firewood. Get out of the classroom. Would I have seen them so capable if I hadn’t? Washing dishes one night, two boys begin talking about their ADHD. “I hate it. It just gets me into trouble in school.” I listen and ask them questions. Who do we expect children to be besides what they are? Sit still, pay attention, be quiet. As we’re coming home from the island, the students are boisterous and calling me and my co-worker mommy and daddy and we’re embracing their antics, keeping them safe, smiling at how they enjoy themselves. That these be moments they felt capable and appreciated for everything they are.
Everything they are, which has gotten under my skin, especially those contagious hearts, which are now holding my hands and hugging me away into the future. I run into four of my students outside of the grocery store on a Wednesday night. They run up to me and hug before I can realize they are there. “I miss you, don’t leave.” I promise in five months I’ll be back at Christmas. Already bought the plane tickets. I wonder why I do this– leave places. Then I think of three years ago leaving Paris and how I cried the length of a taxi ride, a train ride, and a flight. The people in seats beside me who curiously glanced at my tears. If I’d never left, I would never had Maine. I feel like I’m splashing in puddles around the world. But with my heartstrings tied in so many places–Maine, North Carolina, New York, Paris, Missouri– if I strum these strings, they make a beautiful sound. Different melodies, different places, I leave to make the music, add to the sound, deepen my experiences. What glory. I cannot help but thank you for one beautiful memory and melody, Maine. An amazing year and a beautiful place.