Certain words and concepts are easy to define for my students. A square is a four-sided shape, and all four sides are the same length. A noun is a part of speech; a person, place, or thing.
Other words, other concepts, aren’t so clear-cut.
What does it mean to be brave?
To climb a mountain? Swim among sharks? Sky dive? Bungee jump?
I’ve never rescued anyone from a burning building, and I’ve never dodged bullets.
I do have to get in front of a class each day and teach. Explain. Entertain. Console. Counsel. Love.
My students may not realize it, but they personify bravery. They get on school buses each day. They have learned to speak a language different from the one their parents speak. They eat with their friends, conscious that a peanut can be fatal.
They are brave. They don’t yet know that people, grown-ups, those who should know better, don’t. Adults give up. Shuffle through life. My students are charging through life, bravely.
What is beauty? Who decides what is beautiful?
I miss the days of physical confidence that my kindergarten students possess. I didn’t worry if my orange knee-highs didn’t match my purple skirt, I wore them because I wanted to. And I felt pretty. I didn’t worry if I had tuna breath or a piece of lettuce stuck between my two front teeth. I smiled anyway, openly, beautifully.
I didn’t feel anything other than pretty until someone told me I wasn’t. And someone else told me I shouldn’t wear ankle-length skirts. And someone else told me my sister was prettier than I was.
I tell my students they are beautiful. Who they are makes them beautiful. Their passion – for animals, basketball, wrestling – make them beautiful.
I’m 31 years old, have been married for eight years, and still can’t provide you with a concrete definition of love. Love, like weather, comes in degrees. I love Coffee Bean’s Blended Mochas. I love to read. I love sunflowers. I love my students. I love my nephews. I love my husband.
How do you describe the fierce protectiveness that comes with loving my young nephews. Loving them when they tantrum, when they giggle, when they spit-up. Loving them for nothing they have done. Loving them because they exist.
I love my students because they are my students. We spend six hours a day together, five days a week. I sometimes see them more than I see my husband. We have a relationship, a community, a family. And I tell them, no matter how angry I may seem, how disappointed I may be, I still love them.
How do I explain the kind of love that grows from friendship? The kind of love that leaves you smiling? The kind of love that is earned. The kind of love they see by the ring on my finger, the pictures on my desk.
Maybe I don’t.
Maybe love is the sum of brave, beautiful things. Being brave enough to tell another person, “I care about you.” Finding beauty in the eyes and smile of another. Bravely taking another’s hand.