I spend my days surrounded by immensely overworked humans. I meander through the school hallways in the early mornings greeting bleary-eyed men and women who are bent over glowing computer screens writing lesson plans in a building that has not seen the light of day yet but in an hour will see the faces of hundreds of children. I spend my evenings bidding farewell to the janitor who thanks me for keeping my room relatively clean. Before I leave, I usually go around using my fingernails to scrape gum off the floor or retrieve broken pencils from inside the desks before he comes to sweep the room, more than twelve hours later than he entered the building. I see these people more than my own family, more than my so-called best friends, and their daily, dedicated selflessness has become my greatest aspiration.
As we enter November I am reminded, of course, to be thankful. There is always so much to be thankful for. But I am also mindful of giving.
The number one thing I’ve learned is we have to keep giving. Give a freshly sharpened pencil to the same student every damn day. Give another sheet of paper if it means the record and preservation of the original thought of a child. Give your lunch period to the student who you know hates the noisy and rowdy cafeteria where bullying goes unnoticed because the place is understaffed and the staff are overtired. Give the hour you don’t have because your mother called and she needs you and you needed her for eighteen years or maybe (probably) more. Give the bag of chips you just bought to the man that sits on the subway platform everyday because his eyes are the same color as yours and you can’t just realize that and never do anything. Give the early morning you weren’t expecting to encounter to gazing at the person next to you in bed because the light is perfect and you shouldn’t miss this.
Give your attention. Give attention to the kid in class who never speaks. Pay attention to what time the sun sets and rises because this dictates your days, doesn’t it? Remember that little thing that person casually mentioned that one time and ask about it later because no one else will because I’ve learned that little things are big.
When Pierre Reverdy wrote, “There is no love, there are only proofs of love,” he was talking about giving, right? Have I been misinterpreting this quote for years? Or is it just as simple as paying attention? Simone Weil said, “attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”
In writing this I have collected the far-scattered thoughts that enter my head during the hurried tasks of the day when I so often ask myself why I am doing this again and again. Giving my time and my sleep and my pencils and my own printer ink.
The answer is obvious. Because someone gave it all to me.
Caroline Higgins (’11) lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she spends the vast majority of her time teaching English Language Arts. You may also find her at barre exercise classes or playing (and losing) at bar trivia. She continues to be inspired by the energy and diversity of New York City and the beauty of that certain slant of light.