If You Come Softly

If you come as softly
As the wind within the trees
You may hear what I hear
See what sorrow sees.

If you come as lightly
As threading dew
I will take you gladly
Nor ask more of you.

You may sit beside me
Silent as a breath
Only those who stay dead
Shall remember death.

And if you come I will be silent
Nor speak harsh words to you.
I will not ask you why now.
Or how, or what you do.

We shall sit here, softly
Beneath two different years
And the rich between us
Shall drink our tears.

 -Audre Lorde

It has always been my friends who can sit there with me during tumultuous times and just be there with me that have allowed me spaces to begin healing. Sometimes all we need is someone to hear us, or someone to help us have a voice—empower them with the simple words, “I’m listening.” Today I sat in the hallway at two pulled together desks with one of my students that I had only been seeing sporadically in class. I knew something was wrong with her based on other teachers asking questions, and how her entire demeanor had changed through the course of the year. Today in class I could feel her eyes boring holes into my soul, and when we transitioned to small group, she asked if I could come outside and talk to her. And I knew she had finally reached a point where she was ready to open up.

I had heard glimpses of this student’s life through what she would share in her writing in class or during a Socratic seminar, but I learned more about her in those 45 minutes of concentrated listening than I had in all the other days I had stood in front of the class and taught her. I spoke very little, and touched her arm to ground her as she opened up. Her tears flowed freely down her face, with only brief moments taken to brush them away. She masterfully explained her emotions of the last few years of feeling that all her friends were dying, and not feeling safe. She described her battles to find happiness in life and knowing deep down that if she stays, she will drop out or worse. It was emotionally draining for me as I talked to her about next steps we could take to get her help, but no where near as emotionally draining it must be for a sixteen year old girl to wake up with that amount of grief and hopelessness on her shoulders. I didn’t push, and I didn’t pry. I let her set the boundaries of her personal story. I just listened. And I said a few words of reassurance that she would make it. I made sure not to make any promises that I could not keep, and I hugged her and told her I loved her. It was all I could provide in that moment, yet enough, all at once.

I know that student knows that I heard her, and that is what was most important. Because what had upset her most and her thoughts kept coming back to was how deeply pained she was that her mother did not believe her, or brushed off her situation when she tried to talk to her about it. Nothing hurts more than feeling the people who should be there for you, and hear your voice, have blocked out the sound of your true voice. Sometimes they are scared that they are part of why you are hurting, and other times they just feel so helpless themselves. Either way, I know it was a source of her feelings of isolation.

I’m trying to just be there, in just the same way that Audre Lorde’s poem says. I come quietly to my students, knowing that sometimes silent presence is necessary to ‘drink the tears.’ And they’ll find a means to cope–they are, after all, becoming roses that grew from concrete.

I think of this student today, and another one who once harbored thoughts of suicide but now comes a few days a week to me after school and speaks into existence the words of his life story while I ghost write it, so that others may one day truly understand him. He told me today that I give him a voice. But that’s not really true. I’m just sitting beside him, silent as a breath, and hearing him.


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