I live in the Bronx only a 15 minute walk from my school. One advantage of living close to school is that I have a beautiful, easy commute, and another advantage is that I sometimes see my students outside of school.
I saw one of my students the other day at the supermarket standing in one of the checkout lines. Usually, I’m happy to see a student, but I wondered if this student, Michael,* would be happy to see me. The last time I saw him, he had gotten extremely angry and physically shoved furniture in our school offices. This wasn’t his first nor his last outburst. Michael’s family had decided to send him to live with relatives in another school district to give him a restart. We all knew Michael was a brilliant young man with lots of potential, but it seemed hard for him to control his anger.
Seeing Michael in the supermarket, I briefly wondered if I should just avoid him. My thoughts said, “It doesn’t make a difference if you say hello, just buy your groceries and go home.”
However, my intuition told me to say hello– I felt compelled to interact with him. I walked up to him.
“Hi Michael,” I said.
He looked at me for a second—and then his face brightened and leaned down and hugged me.
I was surprised, and yet not surprised– his warmth felt true.
“I’m back for summer visiting. I like my new school,” he told me. “The coaches saw me play baseball so they’re putting me on the baseball team.” Michael is a brilliant athlete. I told him I wasn’t surprised.
He told me more about the new school and as we chatted, we realized the checkout line he was standing in hadn’t moved.
“Let’s find a faster checkout line,” I said. He agreed, and we moved over to a shorter line.
I gestured for Michael to go in front of me, as he had clearly arrived first.
“No,” he insisted. “After you.”
I felt as if I were meeting Michael for the first time– the true Michael. He was insistent that I go first, and so I accepted his generosity.
A few minutes later, an elderly woman with a few items stepped behind Michael.
Once again, Michael gestured for the woman to step in front of him. She looked surprised.
“Go,” he said kindly. The woman moved forward, nodding “thanks” to him.
Michael tried to hide his smile—his pride in having been of service, of having been generous. I told him that I was proud of him.
The interaction reminded of a quote from the book Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys: Literacy in the Lives of Young Men: there are many students “who defy conventional categorizations, who can be more than they are now, whose possibilities may not be obvious to us or even to themselves.” I could see how I had initially held Michael in a certain light based on the past but could now see him newly. I had recently taken a seminar called Creativity and Intuition with Ariel and Shya Kane. After the seminar, I was able to listen to my intuition and see everything newly, rather than listen to the voice in my head that worried about the past and argued for my limitations—and for Michael’s limitations. In following my truth, I was able to meet Michael newly, and so was he.
*The names and identifying features of students have been changed.