A few months ago, I went to Seattle. I sat with some of the best teachers in the country, and we listened, studied, and talked about inequity in our current education system. The data presented wasn't new to me, but that didn't take the painful edge off of it. After the convening, most of my colleagues left for the airport to fly home. I opted to stay for a few hours and enjoy the beauty of that city, wedged perfectly on a coast with islands and mountains surrounding it.
I had 10 hours with nothing to do, and a whole city to explore. It seemed perfect. Instead, my brief stay in Seattle became quite the opposite. I walked for hours and had the distinct and clear feeling that the hope, something I didn't even know I had in great measure, was leaking quickly from my weakening body. By dusk, there were tears running down my face. I was in the city of Amazon, a company which my own city is wooing soullessly, and it felt as though Seattle had simply gentrified itself out of the conversations I had over the last two days. It felt as I walked alone, that Seattle is the bloodied-hand result of the "progress" that so many city planners want.
To be fair to all of Seattle, which I'm sure is a great place with great people, this was all happening in my lonesome head. I'm sure the land of Patagonia and Subarus, two things which seem kind of great to me, is actually a kind and loving city. I'm sure the feeling I had there is not an accurate accusation. The accuracy of what goes on in my head is not really the point here. The point is that for about 10 hours, I felt like there was no hope. Things weren't going to change because people didn't want them to change. Progress in our urban centers hasn't been defined as all of our neighbors experiencing what they deserve. Instead, we have too often defined progress as the best and most profitable scenario for just a few of our neighbors while we price out or ignore so many others.
I called my wife with tears in my eyes and a sharp pain in my stomach.
She told me she was watching Jane The Virgin and we would have to talk later. At my lowest moment, my needs lost to a cheap telanovela.
It was my lowest moment in a year that has found so many ways to challenge my hope. This has been a year in which the metaphorical death of winter and hopelessness has felt much closer than past years.
But now we are at Easter. It's always been my favorite time of year, but also kind of the hardest. T.S Eliot, in one of my favorite lines in literary history, said "April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain." New life hurts because something has to die first. As a teacher, so much of us has died by April. We are in desperate need of resurrection.
This is not a blog that talks about theology. In fact, I have much less of an idea about God than I do about education. Adam and I would sound even more awkward and uninformed than we already do, which would only add to the growing amount of people who think, kind of accurately, that we have no idea what we are talking about. But I can't get away from the story of resurrection.
I heard a catholic priest once say that he has to believe in the resurrection because he has seen it happen too many times to deny it. That kind of resonated with me.
I have seen so many students push through the frozen ground of circumstance and resistance, to grow into something hopeful and beautiful. I've seen students, sometimes with very little help, work to get into college, go to school, and succeed there. I've watched so many students decide to change, taking their failing grades and turning them into "A's" and "B's." I've watched as depression or grief has changed to hope and gratitude. I've seen the constant battering of an unjust system be pushed aside as young people rise to success, hope, and promise. I've seen families and communities demonstrate more love and support than I thought was possible. I've seen a generosity, of money and grace, flow out of the most unexpected places. I've been surprised, time and time again, by smiles and beauty when they have no reason to exist.
I've watched the sun come up.
I've watched the spring flowers push through the dead ground.
I've watched people do whatever metaphorical equivalent you can imagine.
There is a painful reality in resurrection. That reality is what I felt so acutely as I walked the streets of Seattle by myself. In order to come back from the dead, death must first be experienced. And death, as so many of us know well, is so present in our schools. We see the pain that is the opposite of life or love in so many places and it is the reason that we work so hard and we can't sleep at night. In order to experience the hope of resurrection in our classrooms, we also have allow ourselves to experience the death that is also present there. It creates an emotional mess, requiring highs and lows that can easily burn us out or injure our propensity for hope.
I don't need to argue the literal interpretation of the Bible or any other holy text. My atheist friends remind me that there have been countless resurrection stories in history, and Jesus doesn't have a copyright on that idea.
Ok. None of that really matters to me now. The literal interpretation of any ancient story isn't the hill I want to die on. What matters to me is that dead things can come to life. I don't have to stay in Seattle. We don't have to linger in the hopelessness or believe in a world that we all live for ourselves.
Instead we can do the work necessary for new life. We can believe that the flowers are pushing though the frozen ground or the sun will rise each morning. We can believe, at least sometimes, that our students will defy the odds that so many selfish adults have stacked against them. We can believe in resurrection.
We should work toward that.