As long as I can remember, I have had a recurring vision of my future. When I was a child, I wanted to grow up to be ... a hermit. I would live in a lighthouse - not the house at the bottom where the light-keeper lives, but in the tall structure where the light once shone. Here I would write my novels, lowering them by rope and basket to my kind editor awaiting them below.
There are several problems with this image of my life. First, there are no lighthouses in Northeast Georgia, and I truly enjoy living here. Second, I have tried to publish a book, and no one was awaiting my basket. In fact, sending the manuscript to them still did not work.
I suppose I conjured this image of my life at times when I felt discouraged or alone. I find isolation to be the most powerful circumstance and damaging force. It is possible to feel isolated in a room full of people. It has nothing to do with physical proximity and everything to do with emotional proximity. In my moments of isolation, I pray for encouragement. I am ashamed to say there are still times I want to run away and find a lighthouse.
I have a photograph of my paternal grandmother, Dorothy Lee Tyson Hand. In this picture, she is 4 or 5 years old. She stands on her front porch, barefooted, holding a small suitcase. She told me once that she clearly recalled that moment and was running away. Yet she could not remember why she was running. I love that picture. It makes me feel that - even in my moments of isolation — I am not truly alone. My grandmother felt that way, too. And like her, I do not always remember the whys, just the emotion.
In my quest for encouragement, I find most helpful the words in Dr. Coates's sermons at First Baptist Church, here in Gainesville. He once said it is not where you are, but who you are that matters. Even in a lighthouse, I would have struggles, emotions, and would need ... encouragement. But if I were alone, the odds of receiving words of encouragement would be greatly reduced.
Perhaps this notion of encouragement motivates me more than any other emotion. Where I am is arbitrary. I am a teacher. I will be in a classroom no matter what, regardless of school system, region, state, etc. And in that classroom there will be students, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or gender. We are alone in that classroom together - a true oxymoron. Each of us has our own motivations, fears, obstacles and goals.
I only know what I know, and so I try to make sure those around me feel encouraged. If I still struggle as a middle-aged adult, I wonder how some of my students feel. Isolation can be physical (the lighthouse), emotional (feeling displaced) or cultural. How would I feel if I were in a place where a different language was spoken, and where I felt unwanted and unloved? If I as an adult wonder where I am supposed to be, how must the young people of today feel?
So where do they run? How do they isolate themselves? If they find a lighthouse in Northeast Georgia, I have already called dibs. So where can they be safe? Many times it is school.
Given my own need for encouragement, I attempt to offer it to my students. Recently, I had a group that was somewhat resistant to the concept of school. After a few weeks, I had a heart-to-heart talk with them. Maybe they do not care about school, reading, and learning. Maybe I cannot make them care. But they cannot make me not care.
We proceeded, with some days being better than others. Eventually, they recognized that I am quite stubborn and would not quit trying and teaching.
Then came a day when once again, I needed encouragement. This was the day that one child chose to be somewhat belligerent for the 141st time that year. (It was day 141 of 180 school days.) It was a Friday, last class of the day. I am not proud of this, but in my great weakness I mistakenly said, almost to myself, "FINE. It is Friday. I just do not care. I will care again by Monday, but right now I am too tired to care."
One young man who had recently grown into a more focused student blurted out, "But you have to care! You told us you would always care!"
I walked to the door, pretended to re-enter the room, and smiled broadly as I greeted the class for the "first" time that day. He was right. I do have to care. I cannot run away. And in the midst of trying to encourage others, I received encouragement that will last through many moments of isolation. I have to care. I simply have to care. They want and even need me to care.
It is easy to run away from job issues, family issues and moments of weakness. But the problems follow us. We can never truly run away, nor should we. As adults, our children depend on us and look to us for encouragement.
They do not seem to realize that many adults are as lost as they are. But we must be the adults. We must determine who we are, no matter where we are, and we must care. The lighthouse will have to wait.
Renee Hand Morris is a teacher and Maysville resident. Her column appears occasionally and on gainesvilletimes.com.