I began my work day driving two nervous middle schoolers to the teachers’ picket line to march and cheer. A limit to class sizes, more mental health workers, a livable wage for teachers’ aids—their demands are so basic, so humble, and the needs of the kids they serve so immense I find myself ripped wide with grief. Here is yet another injustice demanding attention among outrageous thousands. Here is one more crisis our children bear the brunt of. Everywhere, institutions are crumbling—schools, businesses, churches, governments. I shudder at how this generation is coming of age with a pale semblance of the social stability I’ve taken for granted.
Then again, perhaps it’s time for a shake-up. I’m delighted by how the current job market makes it possible for workers to quit unhealthy, unsatisfying or unfair positions in favor of work more in keeping with their values. For so many, the pandemic’s isolation and losses brought clarity about what really matters; on our city block alone, seven households have moved to follow dreams or be near family. I’ve heard atheist parents commit to attending church for the sake of participating in intergenerational community; I’ve heard life-long church-goers quit because two years of online worship exposed how little that ritual matters.
The public witnessing of police brutality against Black men and the BlackLives Matter movement have spurred organizations across the globe to begin serious efforts toward equity. While Russian atrocities in Ukraine continue unabated, for the first time ever a united west is practicing nonviolent resistance. And our planet, our beloved, threatened planet…at least we’re growing aware of our utter dependence on its health.
I’m reminded of Richard Rohr’s teaching—order must go through a period of disorder before reorder is possible. For better or worse, we’re in the throes of disorder. I find myself searching through theshards of what was looking for pieces to build what might be. If there’s any hope that this chaos might birth opportunity, each of us has to participate in a great realignment. We need to orient our minds, our time, our money, and especially our hopes toward what we most value.
I value teachers, and how even outside of school they teach my daughter to insist on being treated with dignity. Our choice to support the strike was easy. On the harder side, I’m considering stepping back from my own classes next fall to ask some hard questions. How might I teach such that students know writing as a means of deep listening, a source of connection, a wellspring of energy, and an agent of transformation? Are there ways I might be more effective, perhaps by forming a new organization? In my final decades, what would I most like to see happen and how can I bring that about?
I keep hearing this morning’s chant: “The people united will never be divided!” Let’s stick together, friends, through this wild time of change.
–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew