The tears she shed were like daggers in my heart. All I could do was sit next to her, speechless, trying to sort out in my mind what it must be like for her. Trying to get a defiant child to follow the law and attend school, reaching out for resources to help her improve as a parent, inquiring about the expense of various options, struggling to figure out how to put food on the table, attempting to keep vehicles in operating condition to make sure she could get to where she and her family wanted, needed, and were even required to be, all while battling health issues beyond my comprehension for which she had no ability to pay for, and therefore no possible way to make sure they were properly addressed. I just couldn’t make sense of it. It’s just not the life I live. I simply had nothing to offer but support and hope.
I knew the right thing to do was to just shut my mouth, but as the frustration boiled up inside me, and my self righteous indignation consumed me, I just couldn’t help myself.
“Sir, I could actually arrest you,” the officer flatly stated.
“Seriously? That’s what you’re going to say to me and that’s what you’re going to do, arrest me? Unbelievable.” Thick with an air of power and privilege, I wished I could capture those words with my hand and pull them back before they wafted toward his ear.
The officer quickly apologized (rightfully so, I thought) and confiscated my driver’s license as I left my car on the side of the road and walked the few short blocks back to my house. Too angry to recognize how easily I avoided a much greater problem, I waded through my options as I determined what I would do to address the issue at hand. Two years earlier, on a busy Christmas Eve, my daughter and I got rear-ended in an accident that sent us both to the hospital. I was unable to locate my proof of insurance, and was cited for such even though the accident was the fault of the other driver. I was told this could be cleared up easy enough by sending my insurance card (once I found it – and later did inside the bag I was carrying in my vehicle) to the court along with the summons. And, after completing that task, I thought all was over. Unfortunately, the courts never communicated with the Department of Motor Vehicles, and unbeknownst to me, I had been driving on a suspended license for those couple of years.
It was a frustrating, but (in hindsight) quite honestly comedic, chain of events that happened the following day as I worked to remedy the situation. Without going detail by detail, the short of it was that it involved long lines and waiting at the driver’s license branch, an expired passport, a birth certificate not issued by the right agency, a visit to the courthouse vault to retrieve a copy of my divorce decree, a game of pulling numbers and pretending to not understand the procedures, repeatedly being asked to provide photo identification (somewhat problematic without a driver’s license and an expired passport) at every turn, and ultimately my gift of time to a man who was angry enough to create issues if he hadn’t gotten his way. This all makes for a good story (for another time, perhaps); However, all of this isn’t the point of my words here. My story from years ago humbles me from time to time in the present, and recently, I was humbled yet again. I avoided problems with the officer for a reason, and it wasn’t because I was kind and considerate. I was able to get a new driver’s license in the course of a single day (the very next day, mind you, after mine was confiscated), and it wasn’t because the system makes it easy. I know what it’s like to be me. Do I know what it’s like to be someone else?
Who I am is not my job; rather, it’s what I do. Still, I want what I do to matter. Making a difference, a positive difference, in the life of the students, families, and staff I serve matters. It matters to me because it’s partially how I must learn and grow and exhibit my love of others. More importantly, I want it to matter to others so that hopefully, in some small way, I can be a part – even an extremely small part – of taking a step forward.
I’m almost constantly in meetings with students and/or parents and others attempting to navigate a concern. It’s what I do. And, I’m pretty good at it. But, being pretty good at it doesn’t mean I always know what to do. I don’t. In fact, more often than not, I’m usually at a loss. Sitting next to this mother, hearing her share her story (not that I hadn’t heard it before), and realizing how little I could understand what was facing her and her family, it changes me. I have faith that it will be all right in the end, I really do. Right here, right now, though, I want to offer more.
Maybe that “more” is simply support and hope. Maybe that’s not so simple. Maybe it’s what we all need more of.