“Who Am I?”

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She entered the office and there it was: a surprise. By now, Doris received one of these every day, sometimes even more frequently. Usually, they were handwritten letters or notes on notebook paper, such as are used in school. Her students had been giving these notes to her for a couple of weeks, almost always after the morning meeting, those ten minutes with all of the classes assembled before lessons. We have started the school day forever like this at “Volta,” the Italian school in Bogotá, Colombia: reading an excerpt from a book or a sentence and entertaining some questions… But lately something new is happening. “I had questions that burned inside of me,” recalls Doris, who is the coordinator of the middle school at Volta. These questions were opened by the wounds of life, especially from her sister’s illness and death after months of suffering. “It has been a powerful call to the essential.” Then a dear friend left to return to Italy… and more.

So Doris’ questions had become the same questions that she was posing to the students in the morning: “What is the point of coming to school? Who am I? What do I really want?” They were not new words; who knows how many times they had been used even with the students, but now they were her words. The students were obviously struck, because, little by little, they began writing to her–to tell her about themselves, to tell her how those strange questions were true. Such questions might come out in a misunderstanding with one’s mother–“We fight, but I find myself wondering: Is this anger all that she is? And I?,” one questions in a letter to Doris. Another student found himself reprimanded by the school custodian: “The other day, she scolded me because I was throwing paper and I thought: Am I really this stupid?”

 

Maria didn’t write; instead, she decided to show up directly in Doris’s office, saying, “I wanted to tell you something.” She talks to her about struggles with a teacher and with the subject she teaches; formulas and rules that she really can’t digest. The barely passing grades… “Then, the other day, something happened. She returned my exam, marked as ‘satisfactory.’ I deserved better than that.” Instinctively, this would have been another opportunity to withdraw. “Instead, I started wondering: Who am I? Am I just this grade or something more? I started thinking of some adjectives to describe myself, but I didn’t know exactly what to say.” “And then?” “The same question came to me about her, about my teacher. And I thought of some adjectives to describe her: angry, strict but good at explaining…” One word at a time, the list grew, Maria recalls. “But the more I added, the more I realized they weren’t enough, because she is much more than that.”

 

Doris listens, with her mouth open, astonished once again, like she was when faced with those letters. These students have the same questions as she does, the same heart, the same journey of reawakening; an encounter with something real. “Do you know what happened since that moment, Doris?” “No, Maria. What?” “Now I love that teacher. And, just a little bit, I love her subject.”

 

Pause. “And I love myself too.”

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