Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Little Bit of Magic

Up until April of my first year, I worked exclusively at Chizu middle school. I counted myself lucky because I had the chance to build relationships with students who I saw every day. Many others in my program travel to several different places a week-- many of us might see a school only one time a month. What it gains in variety, it lacks in the ability to build relationships on shared experience. That's why I felt a little skeptical about hearing that I would soon be working with the kids at the elementary school.It was change, and change is inherently scary. To hell with those folks who always want to remind you, "Change isn't scary! It's great! Without change we would always be the same!" Yes, thank you, I realize that without change there would be no change-- the scary part isn't remaining the same. It's the what-ifs: what if the kids don't like me? What if the teachers don't like me? What if I just can't do it for whatever reason? If you think about a situation fully, you also consider the potential pitfalls. I don't mean things like "What if a meteor hits me or the sky falls?" I mean the realistic bad things that might actually happen to you. They happen to everyone at some point. You're not immune. You'll fail at something.

Anyway, these things were drifting through my head from time to time about going to the new school. I had just gotten settled in to the way things were and wasn't excited to mix it up. Granted, life could have been better, but it could also have been a lot worse. Additionally, Japanese teachers typically rotate schools beginning in April. So I was also faced with the prospect of meeting a bunch of new teachers too. So it was with mild unease that I began my journey to the elementary school for the first time. I arrived, put my shoes in my new cubby, introduced myself, and got ready for my first class.

And then something wonderful happened. I was loved by the students and accepted by the teachers. I could hold my student’s attention with an ease that surprised even me. I didn't fail. I flourished.

Each day I looked forward a little bit more to seeing the kids at the elementary school. Like a new pair of shoes that get better the more you walk in them, I seemed to fit in a little better every time. The kids were a little more happy to see me every time. Before long, they were screaming my name and running to give me hugs in the morning.

Now is the part where I need to slow down and try my best to paint a picture for you that describes something that is great to feel but boring to read. But it's the most important part, because without it I would not have cared enough to write even this much. I don't think my skills as a writer are up to it, but I need to try anyway.

It's not a selfish pleasure. Well, not entirely. Being loved feels good, let's be honest. Even if 6 and 7 year olds can’t help but love. Do you remember how your face used to light up when you unwrapped presents during Christmas time (compare other extremely joyous occasion if you never did this)? The feelings you had? Like a surge of glee at this new thing that someone got you, that you couldn't possibly have guessed what it was, and who knows what sort of wonders it will hold once you get it out of the box and actually play with it? It's this kind of subconscious, out of control excitement.

As I got older, I forgot how to do that. Being out of control of my feelings was not cool and was certainly frowned upon. So I worked and worked and worked (like most of us did no doubt) on tempering my feelings down to expressions I could manage to show by activating the fewest possible face muscles (welcome to high school). Looking for a smile? At 15 I would have given you a deflated imitation of a grimace and a sneer. Sheer delight was replaced by "restrained sincere thanks". And I never really remembered how to wear my feelings again, even after I realized I didn't care what anyone else thought about my reactions.

But I'm learning it again. At first, I threw up my old gleeful mask-- that phrase makes it sound like I have no feelings, but that's not what I mean. I mean it's the face you wear when you want to show glee, but the glee doesn't write itself on your face. That is something I unlearned in middle and high school. But as time went on, these kids taught my face to move on its own. Every time I heard my name shouted by a tiny voice, my mouth would twitch upward, awkward at first, like exercise after a long period of dormancy. Like standing up after your legs have fallen asleep. Turning toward the sound, I felt that childlike glee wash over my face as I knelt to get the best gift I could ask for: a big hug from a cutie who is sincerely happy to see me and wearing their emotions on their face as clear as day.

It's being a child and making the world new again. It's boundless energy and the breathless satisfaction of playing hard. It's the wonder of smooth, strangely-shaped stones and the magic of imagination.


A very convincing portrait of me drawn by a first grader.
I'll be sure to feature this on my next eHarmony profile.
"My eyes might be crooked by my soul is true."
A picture of a pink bunny rabbit drawn by a little girl with a pixie cut and a button nose. She gave it to me initially without the stars and hearts, but decided it lacked a certain  touch and took it back to make adjustments.

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