Wednesday, June 6, 2012
On the last night of my Conversation class, I told my students I was leaving The American Language Center. I wanted them to have some idea of how much they – and, indeed, all my students at the ALC – had touched my life. I thanked them for their willingness to share their thoughts with me and I told them I would always hold very fond memories of my years at the American Language Center.
The students gathered around me (there were about 8 of them). One student reached into her massive handbag (the young ladies always carry handbags with the capacity of carryon luggage) and pulled out a plastic bag. She dug her hand inside the bag, all the time muttering words to downplay what she was about to offer.
“Sorry it took so long to make this for you, teacher.”
And having said this, she handed me a scarf she had made. Months earlier, I had arranged to have her Aunt make me a tunic like the one this young lady had worn to class. I admired the tunic during a class and then turned that comment into a discussion about the artisans of Fes and how we should actively support their work. When she offered to have her Aunt make a similar tunic for me I simply couldn’t refuse … not after lecturing them about supporting local artists. The tunic was made after several delays trying to get measurements. Not having a tape measure in meters resulted in my grabbing something off the hanger that fit me and providing it as a pattern. In due time the tunic was made and it is an outstanding piece. The scarf which was now being presented to me had been fashioned from the leftover material, and it had always been maintained by my student that this was rightfully my material and should be returned to me. But this young lady wanted to return it to me as a scarf.
The scarf was – is – lovely. Beautiful turquoise fringe embellishes each end of the scarf, making it the perfect length and weight. The gesture was even lovelier.
Next, the only male student in the class came and shook my hand. I have a soft spot in my heart for this young man because one evening after class he approached me and said,
“Teacher, even though you were laughing in class I can see the sadness in your eyes tonight."
He was right and his compassion melted my heart. I had to shoo him away as the tears welled up in my eyes.
Several girls kissed me and one lingered behind to sing me a song. This wasn’t the first time this 17 year-old student sang to me after class but this time, I sang a song for her as well. I hoped it would also be a final lesson for her. I sang of a solider from the Civil War who tricked a love-stick young maiden into giving him many valuable items from her grandfather’s chest of goods. When the maiden beseeched the soldier one more time to marry her, he callously revealed he was already married.
The singer and I exited the classroom and headed for the stairs. At the top of the stairs another of my students rounded the corner and asked if she could speak with me. She put her arm through mine and led me back to Room 4. The door was gently closed and then she turned to me. Before I knew it she threw her arms around me and began sobbing on my shoulder.
“Teacher, I’m going to miss you. Please, don’t go!”
I held her in my arms, just as I had done about a year ago when I saw her walking up my street in the Medina. She looked desolate and responding to my expressions of concern about her, she fell into my arms and cried her heart out. Her beloved grandmother had just passed away. I held her tight and let her cry. While her friends beseeched her to stop, I encouraged her to let her emotions out. I was remembering my own experience at the same age with the death of my mother. I believed I knew what she was feeling.
This time, as I found myself once again holding her and witnessing her sadness, I knew this strong but gentle young lady was remembering that day her grandmother died. I imagine she was thinking here was another loss (though I don’t believe for a second that I am held in the same esteem as her grandmother). But nevertheless, for a young woman the finality of painful losses is a new life experience and I believe painful emotions need to be honored. But it’s my experience that such pain also needs to eventually be held at arms’ length in order to continue to face the world with an open heart. So I softly told her that I would always remember her and that sad partings inevitably play a role in everyone’s life. She kissed the top of my head the back of my hands before I could pull her upright and hold her by her shoulders. Then I spoke to her.
“You know, I will never forget the first time you were my student … “
Then I proceeded to recount a story about her and enumerated some of her qualities. We walked out of the class together and descended the stairs. All the while I told her little stories about her that I have had held in my memory. When we arrived outside the main door and approached the garden, there stood the majority of my students.
We said goodbye one more time and I walked out the gate to find a taxi.
Posted by Water Dragon at 11:07 AM