I am not a victim.
I said this aloud today, in my car. While driving home from a day of substitute teaching at Epstein Hebrew Academy. Other than having to cover myself from collarbone to wrist-bone to anklebone in layers of shirts and skirts, it’s a pretty good gig. I get to play with insanely adorable two to four year old Jewish children for seven hours a day, learn some Hebrew, and on a good day like today—sit in the sun. The teachers are some of the best I’ve worked with yet and the added bonus of learning about traditions of a culture/religion I actually came from (German-Jew roots) is pretty fantastic.
Of course, there are days like today when it is more apparent that I am the non-Jew. Days like today when Morah (Hebrew for “teacher”) Bobbi spent an hour teaching the children about which animals are kosher and which are not—as my very UN-kosher ham sandwich sat on the counter in my lunch bag only feet away.
I chose instead to eat a school lunch today.
And then there was the handshake. Or non-handshake, rather. When Rabbi Moran introduced himself and I eagerly reached forward to shake his hand—as he proceeded to hold his own firmly behind his back, explaining that he does not “do that.”
Live and learn.
I am afforded these unique learning opportunities because I am a substitute teacher. Not only do I substitute for Epstein Hebrew Academy, but also for New City, Orchard Farm School District, Living Word Christian Schools and Hazelwood School District. For those of you who may not be entirely familiar with the St. Louis Metro region, what this means is that I get to sub the East-side children of the hood; the northwest side low-income children of the corn; the very typical, middle-class, close-minded children of suburbia; the west county wealthy; and the cultured, privileged-or-scholarshipped, open-minded quazi-hippy children of the Delmar Divide. (NOT listed respectively)
Please note I said “sub” and not “teach” these children because there is a very big difference. I taught English in Korea. Kind of. . . I taught elementary math and writing and social studies and art and science in English so, the children being forced to learn and speak in English—learned. But sub-teaching? I am essentially babysitting. I am filling in. I am passing out packets upon packets of busy-work or tests and sitting in for the teachers’ absence. There have been a few times I’ve legitimately taught. I taught a senior Psychology class and a freshman literature class successfully—like actually taught. It was nice. I felt effective. Twice.
But such is the life of a substitute teacher. Which is what I am right now.
A substitute teacher.
At least for now I am. In the past year, since returning from my year abroad in Korea, I have held a variety of job titles . . .
*Production Assistant- “Killing Poe” indie film
*Disaster Relief Volunteer
My mainstream friends call me a hippie and my hippie friends call me mainstream. To the conservative Christians I’m a tattooed sinner and to the atheists and anti-religious I am a prude a saint. The world travelers tell me I’ve “been a few places” and the suburbanites say I’ve seen the world. My country-girl college roommate and her in-laws call me a ‘city girl’ and the city girls call me a country girl. To the yogis I will “get better with practice” and to the non-yogis I am “crazy flexible.” To the musicians I “used to play” and to the musically challenged I am a gifted pianist. To the true educators of America I am “just a sub” and to those outside of the educational system I am “aweee wow, a teacher!”
I am a woman who wears many hats.
I am a chameleon.
I am a Gemini.
I am a daughter.
I am a sister.
I am an aunt.
I was a granddaughter. (love you, Grandma)
I am a teacher.
I am a writer.
I am a photographer.
I am a ridiculously undisciplined pianist who will one day play again.
I am a dreamer.
I am an optimist.
I am a visionary.
I am a procrastinator.
I am a wanderer.
I am a friend.
I am a reckless lover of all people—most especially the broken and forgotten ones.
I am a wonderer.
I am a skeptic.
I am a doubter.
I am a believer.
I am an outdoor enthusiast.
I am an honorary big sister to a handful of beautiful souls.
I am a romantic.
I am a poet.
I am an adventurer.
I am a humanitarian.
I am a world changer.
I am forever young.
I am not a victim.
I was a victim. Since last April I was a victim. I was a failure. I was the girl who didn’t see it coming. I did all the things I swore I’d never do again in all my life—move back to St. Louis, move in with my parents, and wait tables.
I was a victim because I chose to be. I was a victim because I allowed it to define me. I was a victim because the pain blinded me from seeing all the beautiful things I actually was—am.
He didn’t love me back.
And that’s okay. That’s life. It happens to everyone and I am no exception. It’s no one’s fault. Not mine nor his. The only true fault lies in the decisions made after the devastation. I chose to be a victim. I chose to say “Poor me. Everyone look how I have been wronged. Look at how I have a degree and can’t get a job. Feel bad for me. Feel sorry for me. Help me. I am in a bad place for a bad reason and I feel I will stay here forever. He wronged me. In the worst of ways he wronged me. . . “
I am not a victim. Not anymore.
There is a difference between being a victim and allowing true grief. I think true grief is one of the most beautiful things, but also one of the most rarely practiced. I cannot recall how many times this past year I was asked, “How are you?” and my response was both shocking and most times oddly unwelcomed.
I made a point to never say “Good,” because I wasn’t. I wasn’t good at all. I was working a minimum wage job with a four-year degree. I was lonely and heartbroken and disappointed in myself and my current state of being. I wasn’t okay at all. And I wasn’t about to pretend I was. So most times I said, “I’m decent,” or “I’m going to be okay,” or “I’m surviving,” or “I’m making it,” or—on some occasions—“I’m pretty awful actually.” Because I was. I was pretty awful actually. It was the hardest year of my life.
The other night I was talking with my little brother about sadness. I had one of those crazy moments where you realize a grand Truth just as it leaves you mouth—a Truth you didn’t even know was hidden inside your mind until you said it aloud—a Truth so empowering you have to stop for a moment to and sit in awe at the words you didn’t know were there. . .
Lucas. Don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re going to be “okay.” You’re not going to be okay. You’re going to survive. And that’s sometimes all you can do when you’re in the darkest of places. Sometimes all you can do is survive. And that’s okay. That’s more than okay. Because one day you’ll wake up and you won’t be just surviving anymore. You’ll be living—really living. But only because you allowed yourself to first fully grieve—to first simply survive, even when everyone around you just wanted you to be okay—to be better. And you’ll be better for it. I promise you will be. You’ll be fantastic. Not just okay. Grief is vital, you know. It is vital for life. It is important to embrace your grief so that you can really live after you survive it.
I am ready.
I am ready to really live.