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Isn't it pretty?

Monday, November 19, 2007

It's Relative

I guess my blog isn't completely closed yet, though I haven't had a lot to blog about lately. Or I have had a lot going on, but so much that I can't sort it out in my head to blog about it, or things that I haven't felt so much like blogging. Regardless, I've had one thing in my mind for a while now.

I've been doing an internship in a local public high school this year. It's an interesting experience in so many ways. The school is located in the neighborhood in which I live, which means that a lot of my neighbors are the students there. You would think that might make things awkward, but it doesn't really. Because I don't actually know any of my neighbors who attend the school. Because they aren't my Jewish neighbors. This makes me feel sad that my community is so separate and non-integrated. It also initially made me concerned that I would not be able to relate to the students at the school, despite living in the same neighborhood.

The reactions I've gotten from some of my Jewish friends who live in the neighborhood has been interesting as well. There are often expressions of concern about safety and questions about lifestyle differences.

The students at this high school are very predominantly minority students - Black and Hispanic for the most part. A very large percentage live under the poverty line. Many of them have only one parent at home, if that. There are an enormous number of special education students.

And I have yet to feel afraid being there. The students have all been extremely polite to me. I have managed to connect with them, and they come weekly to talk to me and share what they are going through. They have hopes and are striving to have better lives for themselves, against enormous odds. I'm, quite frankly, in awe of these teenagers who have had so few advantages.

Seeing what these students are going through makes me feel silly for ever having complained about situations that I have gone through. But it has also made me realize that while I may feel silly in the face of what these students deal with, my pain is real as well. As much as a relativistic system doesn't work, it kind of has to at the same time.

I don't know quite how to articulate it. But I guess what I'm saying is that each person's challenge is at their own level. My struggles are hard. The struggles that these students face is hard. The tasks that starving children in 3rd world countries have to manage is hard. And as a counselor, I have to look at each person and see that he or she has to face his or her own difficulties, without comparison. And I'm still struggling to really understand that.

I'm really glad I'm getting this experience. While other people might avoid working in such an environment, it has shown me that teenagers are teenagers. And a little care matters, in any place. I initially thought there was no way I would want to work in such a school district long term, but the truth is, I really like it there. It has given me the opportunity to see that as open-minded as I thought I was, I really wasn't, and am not. But I think I am getting closer.