Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Apr 14 2013

The Fourth Year Approaches

Y’all, this is getting ridiculous.

Again, I find myself in the Broadway Starbucks of Little Rock. Thinking about what life this summer could look like if I lived here, thinking about how I can lift myself up, thinking about the world at large and how we operate within it.

I have a journal open in front of me, a letter from one of Leaf’s Nola students beside me, and this blog open. Words define my existence, literally and figuratively. I can find no solace stronger than writing a sentence, paragraph, page (though running is a close second).

It’s beautiful outside. Absolutely gorgeous and not yet too hot. Everyone in here is working with some kind of literature. The boy with the Oxford t-shirt outside is reading The Kite Runner. The older couple at the side table is toying with America in Ruins and a laptop. I am so comfortable in coffee shops. This is something I’d never think twice about, but today seems profound.

The last few months, the last year, have surprised me with the lessons I’ve learned. One in weight, and one in identity.

Weight/Wait

So far, I’ve been shaped and made conscious decisions to live my life in service. It’s a cliche I can’t escape lately– the elementary way I’m labeling my choices, at least for now. I want humans, and my nation, and my world, to be better than it is. I want children to know their worth and opportunities, I want my state to have a better reputation (I want my own father to come to Arkansas and not feel compelled to say, “Well I knew this stuff existed, but I didn’t expect it in Arkansas…” –though he LOVED his time here, he is like the huge majority of Americans, especially northern Americans, who don’t understand my home.)

That being said, I’m a pusher. I am a social human. I am a worker and a planner. I am educated and crave learning and understanding. I love culture and the earth and understanding why things happen.

Potentially more than that, I love watching growth in others. I love planting seeds and waiting with a prayer on my lips and a jump in my heart for flowers to bloom and smiles to spread and confidence to leap. I thrive on it. I revel in it. I wish I was better at making it happen (please remember loving these things does not mean I am at all competent at making them happen).

Here’s the weight. Here’s the wait.

People come to decisions and actions on their own terms. We reason, we weigh, we make choices. In every situation, I firmly believe, someone is rooting for you. Rooting for the “right” choice, for the higher chance of happiness, for the more productive long term existence. But that doesn’t come close to guaranteeing people will make that choice. This is a hard lesson to learn when you’re the cheerleader.

I feel I spent a lot of this year with my students, personal life, and myself waiting. In October I proclaimed this would be a lesson in patience and it has been– but not at all in the way I expected. With the wait came weight, and as I whispered to myself that all this patience was for a cause, that all this time and effort and energy was service, the weight didn’t let up. It was patience for a failure. It was eternally pushing up against a surface that you expected to be lifting… then instead finding you’ve buried yourself in the ground.

I have learned a lesson in patience, yes. That I am capable of it and that it sometimes bears the most precious things. But also that patience is sometimes for naught, and that you can’t ignore yourself in its name.

Identity

With this wait/weight came this other, strange thing that I honestly haven’t seen socially in a while: insecurity.

I remember taking a bible personality test in high school and learning that my gift is discernment which, generally, is being able to tell right from wrong. For all of eternity I have been the friend that hates doing anything remotely illegal, the one that follows rules and then makes more of them for fun, that thrives in structure and purpose, that doesn’t ever displace integrity.

But, with this press for patience, I found myself doing just that. Making excuses for what I knew to be wrong– for myself personally, if not for a good greater than that. Where my steadfastness (is that a word?) went, I haven’t a clue. Into a need for affirmation, maybe. Into a craving to fit in (is this junior high?) Into the trap that this is the Delta, and people just take a little longer to come around.

After two and a half years here, being 25 and a tiny bit deeper into my adult life than most of my closest friends, I feel somewhat responsible for knowing what I’m doing and who I am. By now, I expect myself to have thicker skin and a more solid spine. My decision to move to Arkansas was not to compromise my values and ideals. I knew it would be hard, I knew it would be foreign, I knew growing pains would pull and ache in all ways. I just somehow overlooked that those growing pains wouldn’t stop when my TFA commitment did.

***

There are so many other things to write about, but today is a day that I cannot get out of my own head. There are so many literary parallels that my head is swimming (spring is renewal; change is growth; with pain is character…) but I feel so much better to have this out.

Other updates:

  • My dad took his first trip to the Delta and fell in love. The most telling moment for me personally was yesterday. One group of friends that had already met him was talking to a group that hadn’t yet. The latter asked, “Have you met her dad? What’s he like?” And the former said, “He’s just like an adult male version of Caroline!” I never noticed how alike we are until this weekend.
  • We had another round of talent show auditions last week and 22 acts stayed after school to audition. We had so many my 7th graders had to make cuts!! What!
  • I’m being offered, slowly, incremental leadership positions in school. I’ve been thinking about what to take and why, how I want to shape my career in Dumas and why, and how long I truly want to stay in this district.
  • There is a program called The Arkansas Teachers Corps that’s just getting its feet on the ground. I’ve been in touch with some coordinators and will potentially work for them this summer. I’m super pumped at how similar it is to TFA, but is its own organization. Because it’s in its infancy, taking a low-pay summer job now could help build me up to other opportunities later on. Also, huge perk: it might house me in Little Rock for six weeks this summer. SOCIAL LIFE, HELLO!!!

And last, funny that it’s a side note but: turned in my letter of intent to stay in Dumas for a fourth year.

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