Every once in a while, students make me cry. I didn't make a fool of myself or anything. But I did cry.
It's all because of these particular students who are so great in spite of traumatic childhoods. I know, I know, it sounds cliché that I would cry about students who suffer and yet find so much beauty and joy in life, but what can I say? I cried.
I imagine writing teachers all over the world cry. I hope they do.
I read these memoir essays—these collections of memories—and I can't believe the profound complexity of a life. Asking students to make sense of important memories that shape their identity might yield anger and hatred (the classic victim memoir genre). But these students do the harder work of gleaning the beauty from the horror. They showcase the wisdom they've accumulated. They interact with others with patience, gentleness, and this curious sense of love that the rest of the class notices. Their suffering enables a particular attention to the needs of others. Instead of narcissistic victimization, they use their stories to care for others. It's amazing to hear about the future careers they imagine: social work, nursing, counseling. They have a gift to give back! How, at their age, can they see their pain's wisdom as a gift to give?
I know these students have spiritual backgrounds. They must believe in the goodness of God and the way, at least in the Christian tradition, suffering always leads to beauty. There's always a way to make sense of it.
So I cried for the truth that suffering can and will bring joy.
Living with flair means acknowledging the stories of others on the journey. It means recognizing the hard task of re-framing our worst memories into pathways to beauty and wisdom. And if the acknowledgment brings tears in front of a class of college students, so be it.