As I was leaving Carasucias (a children’s home), I saw R, M, A, Am, E, and C hunched over together.
I approached them and they all talked at the same time:
“R and E killed this snail!”
“The snail was pregnant!”
“C told me to kill it! C, tell her how you told me to kill it!”
“But it wasn’t me who killed it! R and E killed her!”
“Look at the poor baby snails… all dead.”
And so forth they showed me and told me about the dead snail.
It seemed that they regretted doing this, and couldn’t stop looking at what they had done.
I looked at it for some time too and suggested that we have a proper burial for it. I didn’t want to touch the scattered remains of the poor snail, so I asked the girls to bring some leaves so that we can gather all its parts and head towards the dirt.
Thus, after scooping up the snail in all its gooeyness and shells, all of us headed towards the dirt, where we started digging up the dirt. As soon as we finished, I suggested saying our last words to the snail.
R, one of the ones accused of killing it, went first. She said, “Sorry for killing you. And I didn’t know you were pregnant. Sorry for that too.”
And A told R, “You should be really sorry; especially to the little babies that died. Imagine just being in the womb, and they weren’t even born, and BAM. They died.”
R looked like she was truly sorry. After this E said similar words as R.
Then, I asked, “Is there something we can sing for the snail?”
The girls couldn’t think of anything else but ‘Happy birthday to you’, so they sang this but stopped midway as they thought it wasn’t the most appropriate song in the face of death.
Then R asked, “Will it go to heaven?”
I was honest with what I thought. I said, “I don’t think so… because it has no soul like you and me. It doesn’t know right from wrong.”
“Will I go to heaven if I die?” R asked.
“If you believe in Jesus, you will.”
I don’t know to what extent she believes what she says or whether she does know Jesus, but it was amazing to see conscience at work. After killing the snail, the girls were feeling guilty and sad about it. With a bit of guidance, I showed them we could at least give it a dignified death to show we were sorry for what we did. Also, by not brushing this off as meaningless child play, we were able to dig a bit deeper into life and death.
Ever since I can remember, I had ‘adventure phobia’. I wanted to be as ordinary as I could be. I didn’t want any excitement in my life, and having a secondary-character kind of life was my life goal. Long story short, when I unexpectedly went to college in Korea, God met me relationally, and I realized that if I was going to follow Jesus, I had to let go of my Ordinary Life Idol. I reluctantly let go of it, and the last eight years have been quite the dramatic first-character kind of adventure (like a soap opera, it includes dramatic airport meetings, coincidences that are too great and numerous to believe, divorced and remarried parents, the list goes on).
Now that I find myself back in Argentina, with no clear plans or leads from God, I am struggling with being here because everything is so ordinary. So far, God led me in a “wow, that’s really cool” way, and I came to expect this same pattern again: more adventure! So when that didn’t happen and is still not happening, I thought I must have misheard or done something wrong. Now, after seven months in Argentina, I am finally getting the hang of what this ‘next adventure’ is about. This time, it seems as though God wants to whisper something to me. And I hope I have ears to listen.
Since letting go of the Ordinary Life Idol, I subconsciously built an I-Need-to-be-Extraordinary Idol. It meant I wanted to be extraordinary not in terms of money or fame, but in Kingdom of God stuff. And somehow, I started defining “Kingdom of God stuff” as the visible and famous Christians’ deeds.
I thought my calling had to be as significant as the Bible’s “main” characters or as the current Christian celebrities: Joseph, David, Paul, Katie Davis, Francis Chan, etc. I am literal to a fault, which means that if someone tells me “Paul was a great apostle. Be like Paul”, I literally start thinking that in order for me to be of any use in the Kingdom of God, I need to have some dramatic sort of suffering like Paul did and be as theologically eloquent as he was, and make some kind of mark that can be recorded in a modern-day Christian book. When I read about Francis Chan talking to ex-convicts, who go on to become pastors themselves, I ache terribly to do such awesome things as he does. So I compare their deeds and results to mine. Thus, I feel like I’m not doing something clearly significant or meaningful for Him as they are doing, and that I need to ‘push myself’ more to be like them.
Knowing these dramatic stories, I am dissatisfied as I see myself in a hiatus year where my health is slowly recovering, and I don’t do much except for hanging out with my family. I want to get past the little annoyances that happen every day as I live with them; I want to be useful and bright in something that is ‘tangibly’ Kingdom of God centered (for example, feeding and evangelizing the poor, the orphans, and the widows).
Then one day it hit me: my calling as a Christian could be to be as “insignificant” as the servant who accompanied Saul to look for his lost donkeys, or as the widow that gave Elijah room and board along with some food, or the widow that Jesus saw giving all her money as an offering unto the Lord.
I realized that the disconnection between what God has called me to do and the focus I am giving to the outer appearance of things is great. While it is true that people like David and Francis Chan are people of God, just because my track record as a Christian isn’t newspaper material, it doesn’t make me more or less of a Christian. Now, I don’t want this to be an excuse for me to never do anything bold for God. The widow who gave food to Elijah was bold because that was all the food she had left! Like her, I hope and pray I will be ready to do that bold thing God calls me to do at whichever season in my life!
But that’s the point: it is God who decides what, when, and where. I don’t get to choose and plan out the grandiose thing I will do for God. God determines how I will serve Him; what my calling is. And that something can be as great as defeating a giant with a stone or as small as giving bread to a hungry prophet.
I might not do something or be someone grandiose in this life, and my Christian walk is not meant to focus on that. Perhaps I will directly, with my own mouth, preach the gospel and have many people convert thanks to my direct words. But perhaps I might never see one person convert because of my speech. Whether people convert or not is not up to me, but to God. It is my duty to be faithful and proclaim the gospel wherever I am, but it is not in my power to convert them.
The real glory, and the real battle is in the unseen. How come Saul’s servant knew so much about how to find Samuel and who he was? How come the widow had enough faith to not reject Elijah, though she had barely any food left and he was wanted dead by the queen of Israel? And how did the widow Jesus mentioned have enough love and faith to give up her entire possession as an offering unto God? I am sure these nameless, background Bible characters knew God. And I’m sure they led extremely ordinary lives. And they were willing and prepared to do the small yet big actions of faith required of them at the right time.
Wherever I am put by God, my calling is to be holy (set apart), and to love sincerely as I serve others. I can happily be all of this in whatever circumstance God allows as long as He’s with me. And funnily enough, as I am learning to live by these principles, I see the Holy Spirit giving me boldness to keep quiet at times, to be patient and kind, and to love in a way that I know it is not from me but from God. I am learning to live an Ordinarily Extraordinary life, and it is quite the adventure.
지금 것 살아와서 눈치라는 것을 나름 열심히 공부하고 노력하는데도 눈치라는 건 안 생긴다.
왜 나는 눈치 없이 살아남기 힘든 대한민국의 민족성을 갖고 태어났을까?
예를 들면 눈치의 핀트가 안 맞아서 나를 좋아하지도 않는 남자가 날 좋아한다고 착각 하고 나를 좋아하는 남자는 누구인지 눈치를 못 챈다.
예 1) 어느 여름 날, 아르헨티나에서 바베큐 파티가 벌어졌다. 거기에는 많은 청년들이 모여있었다. 어느남성분께서 나에게 계속 말을 걸었다. 내가 보기엔 나한테 너무 관심이 많아 보였다. 그래서 사촌언니한테 “언니, 어느 청년이 나한테 접근 하는 것 같다.”하자 언니는 웃으면서 말했다, “야, 그 놈 여친 있어~~” 민망했다.
예 2) 대학 생활 하면서 수업에서 아는 언니가 나에게 어느 날 물어봤다: “너 술 마시니?” 그러자 나는 “음.. 마시는 편은 아니에요.”라고 대답 했다. 그래서 언니는 “아, 다름이 아니고 우리가 같이 듣는 수업에 너를 조금 더 알아가고 싶어하는 오빠가 있거든.” 나는 그 술자리를 거부 했고 그 후에 언니를 통해 생의 처음이자 마지막으로 가장 많은 빼빼로도 받아봤다. 여기서 내가 눈치 없는 부분은 이것이다: 나는 지금까지 나를 좋아했던 분이 누군지 모른다. 우리 수업은 20명도 안 되는 소규모 수업이었다. 그리고 그 수업엔 여자들도 있고 나와 동갑 아님 더 어린 친구들도 있었다. 그러니 그 수업에 있었던 오빠들의 수는 엄청 적을 텐데 그 중에 누구인지를 눈치를 못 챘다. 아직도 모른다.)
우리 엄마랑 오빠는 내가 어렸을 때부터 눈치가 없는걸 참으며 살아야 했다. (아빠는 나랑 비슷하게 눈치가 없다.) 그래서 나한테 비밀스러운 이야기를 할 때 “이것은 가족 아닌 사람한테 말하면 안 돼”라고 말하지 않은 이상 나는 무엇이 비밀이고 무엇이 아닌지 구별을 못 했다. 아직도 그런다.
눈치의 대한 정보를 28년동안 쌓아놓고 있다. 그래서 6살 엘리 보단 28살 (한국 나이 29) 엘리가 훨씬 더 눈치가 있는 인간이다.
허나, 평균적인 한국인 눈치만큼 있을려면 하늘에 별 따기로 느껴진다.
“이건 이런 대에서 말 하면 안 돼”라고 할 때 나는 단순히 그 상황 혹은 그 상황과 거의 비슷해야지만 그런 말을 하면 안 된다는 인식을 한다. 그래서 토종 한국인들은 대부분 나를 좋아하지는 않다.
눈치가 없어서 한국에서 대학 생활하면서 3 학년이 돼서야 이해 했다 (누가 말 해줘서): 한국 대학생들은 수업에서 손을 들고 질문 하는 학생을 이상하게 본다. 나는 항상 질문이 있으면 교수님께 물어봤었다. 그 수 많은 수업에서 얼마나 많은 한국 학생들은 나를 또라이로 봤을까?
4학년에 눈치 아닌 누군가의 정보 덕분에 알게 된 것: 교수님이 혼낼 때 눈을 마주보면 안 된다. 눈을 마주치는 것은 싸가지 없는 짓. 아이고. 내가 4년 동안 우리를 혼낼 때 교수님과 선배들의 눈을 항상 마주쳤는데… 내가 얼마나 싸기지 없어 보였을까? 그때 당시에는 “어, 왜 다들 말씀 하시는 사람의 눈을 안 볼까? 나라도 봐야겠다”만 생각 하며 빤히 쳐다봤다. 눈치가 조금 이리도 있었으면 나도 눈을 까는 건데…
지금 생각해보면 한국에서 8년 가까이 생활 해서 눈치 RAM을 많이 늘었다. 옛날엔 1GB RAM이었으면 지금은 2GB인 느낌이랄까? 왜냐하면 이젠 내가 눈치 없는 것에 대해 더 눈치를 챘으니 이상한 짓 하기 전에 가까운 친구들과 가족들에게 물어본다:” 이렇게 하면 돼나? 이렇게 말하면 싸가지 없는건가?”
언잰가 나도 엄마하고 오빠처럼 16GB RAM 눈치로 업그레이드 할수 있을깝?
I really have no nunchi*.
(*Nunchi: being aware of others in an interactive situation, like being socially awake and socially keen, picking up on something)
All my life, I’ve done my best to be good at nunchi, but it just doesn’t seem to come to me.
Why was I born into an ethnicity that considers nunchi essential for survival?
A very straightforward example of my horrible nunchi skills:
One summer in Argentina, there was a barbecue with a bunch of people my age. There was a guy who kept talking to me. I thought he was interested in me. So I told my cousin, “Hey, I think that guy is interested in me.” To which my cousin laughed a lot and replied, “Dude, he has a girlfriend.”
During my college years, I was in this class with less than twenty students. An unnie (older girl) I knew asked me whether I liked drinking because there was an oppa (older boy) who was interested in getting to know me better as we went out for a few drinks. I said I wasn’t really into drinking. Afterwards, through that same unnie, the oppa gave me a bunch of Pepperos (Korean candy). And here’s where I have no nunchi: I still don’t know who that oppa is. That class was not just small, but there were a few girls, and there were boys younger than me. That leaves only a few boys who were older than me. Nunchi level zero.
My mom and brother had to bear (and still have to bear) with my nunchilessness. (My dad is equally without nunchi as I.) Thus, when they told me something that had to be kept private, they always had to mention “Hey, don’t tell this to anyone outside the family” because otherwise I couldn’t tell the difference between something that was a secret and something that wasn’t. I still have a hard time differentiating this.
And so, 28 years have passed. I have been slowly gathering information about where and how to have nunchi. This means that the 28-year-old Eli has more nunchi than the 6-year-old Eli.
However, I am thousands of miles away from having the nunchi of a normal Korean person.
Because I had no nunchi, it was barely in my third year of college in Korea that I found out (because someone told me) Korean students consider it rude to ask questions to the professor during lectures. I am naturally a person full of questions, so I had asked countless questions until my junior year in Korea. They must have thought I was a weirdo.
Also, on my fourth year of university, I found out through someone that when a professor or a person in a higher position than you scolds you, you aren’t supposed to look at their face. For four years, whenever a professor scolded us and everyone was looking down, I thought to myself, “Why are they being so rude? They’re just staring at their books! At least I will show respect by looking at the professor.” If I had an ounce of nunchi, I would have looked down at my book too.
The past eight years I have spent in Korea helped expand my nunchi RAM. Before living in Korea, I had a 1GB RAM of nunchi, whereas now I have 2GB. I consider myself upgraded because at least now I am more cautious and ask “Hey, is it ok to do this? Is it having no nunchi if I say this?” to my close friends and family.
The question is: will I ever be able to have a 16GB nunchi RAM like my brother and mom?
As the deer panteth for the water so my soul longeth after Thee;
You alone are my heart’s desire and I long to worship You.
After an early morning bathroom break, this song came to my mind and I sang it out loud as I lay back in bed. Deep within my soul, this has been my cry. However, instead of acknowledging and seeking after Thee, I have sought other things. Let me explain.
It has been about a month and a few weeks since I came back to my birth country Argentina. After staying in Korea for nearly eight years, I realize now that this is a huge transition.
Part of me wonders what on Earth gave me the guts to come back to Argentina without an Eli-like-planned-manner. I know the answer: my dearest Abba. When I was getting ready to come here and my friends and students in Korea made a big fuzz about me leaving, I only felt their care and love. They seemed to think I was making a big leap. I didn’t think so at the moment. Thus, as I said my goodbyes in Korea, there was only joy in my heart. I was sure God had told me that three years at HIS (the old school I worked at) was it, and my next step should logically be going to Argentina before transitioning into something else. I felt no assurance about the next long step, so I knew I was stepping out into the unknown.
However, if you know me, even when I don’t have a plan, I have a plan. Thus, I set up a system of perfect lies (as all good lies, they were mixed with a lot of truth) for myself.
As all workplaces, my workplace was not perfect. And being an INTJ (we are nicknames as the “masterminds” and “system makers”), it was easy for me to identify, talk, and ask about the problems I perceived at school. And because I was right most of the time (no arrogance intended), I worked myself up to believe I really cared about changing educational systems more than I actually did (proof of this will come later). Thus, I started looking for grad school programs that taught something in relation to educational systems. I found a program I liked because it involved comparative studies of educational systems around the world. I applied to two grad schools that provided this program: Oxford and Stanford.
So, here I was, closing my chapter in Korea, not knowing what will happen next; whether I would get accepted by either university or not, and whether I would have the money to go to either. But I believed this was what I wanted to do.
And now I am in Argentina. Before the disappointing results told me that I didn’t get into either of the universities, I remember lying in bed and asking the question I had not dared ask myself before, “If I really care about comparative education, how come I haven’t researched it or read books about it in all the spare time I have had since I came to Argentina?” I told myself it was because I was so tired.
Then, the rejection emails came. That day stung me like a bee. I felt worthless and stupid. I was embarrassed. Why did I aim so high? Why did I even dream? Maybe this means I shouldn’t dream anymore. Why did I tell so many people to which universities I was applying to? If I hadn’t, this would be less embarrassing. I am sure my Christian friends will tell me “It was God’s will”, but honestly, I feel like it was my incompetence.
Thankfully, I had my parents and cousin to speak Scripture into me on this very same day.
My cousin sent me a compassionate message as well as a passage from Luke where Jesus says that there’s no need to worry about what to wear or eat; just like the lilies in the field.
My parents were secure in God’s plan being good: they reminded me of different figures in the Bible. Moses, who had the calling to take his people out of Egypt took things in his hand prematurely and murdered an Egyptian. He ended up forty years outside of the place he was supposed to rescue his people from. Only forty years later does God communicate His immediate plan for Moses and Israel. Joseph went through major career detours before he ended up being second-in-hand to the Pharaoh.
All these things reminded me of one ringing truth: regardless of my stupidity or intelligence, God has the right to open and close doors as He pleases because it is His story that is being written in my life; not mine.
Thanks to these words and thoughts, I concluded that my dream for doing something educationally meaningful is not a bad nor a fake dream, but that the way I thought it would be played out was not to be. So yes, it’s still a bit embarrassing, but yes, I am eternally grateful to God for stopping this here.
Unbelievably, I was sad about the rejection news for only one day. Yup. One day. The next day, I felt quite good. The immediate image that came to mind is something that happened in Little Women. Laurie, who is best friends with the March family, got on capitally well with one of the four sisters: Jo. And spending so much time with her, he naturally fell in love with her. They had very similar temperaments: rather impulsive, quick to anger, quick to forgive. Jo notices that Laurie has feelings for her and starts avoiding him because she knows their temperaments only click as friends; not lovers. However, Laurie manages to declare his ardent love for her on one afternoon. Jo tenderly tells him that she can’t love him in that way; that he is a precious brother for her. Laurie realizes Jo will not budge in her decision and ends up going to Europe with his grandfather in order to grieve (in his heart, Laurie thinks that he can prove to Jo that he cannot forget her even with this trip). On his trip, Laurie meets and hangs out with one of the March sisters who was also on tour in Europe: Amy. The more he meets her, the less he finds himself drawing sad pictures of the rejection he got from Jo. Before Amy and Laurie know it, they are in love, and Laurie cannot evoke the feelings of a tragic hero any more. In the end Laurie and Jo go back to being good friends.
In a sense, I am Laurie. I thought I was deeply and desperately in love with Comparative and International Education (CIE). Yet as I stay in Argentina, eating meat, being pampered by my loving family, I wasn’t feeling the “tragic hero” feelings I thought would follow after such devastating news as rejection from the only two grad schools I applied to. Don’t get me wrong, I still think CIE is a very interesting and attractive field of study. It’s just that my love for it is not what I worked it up to be.
Now, let’s backtrack a little and remember how I said that even when I don’t have a plan, I have a plan (it’s the INTJ in me)? My second plan behind my grad school plan was applying to other international schools: I could learn even more in a new school environment! Thus, as soon as I received my two rejections, I started hunting for teaching jobs. There was something in me that was uneasy about this, but I still did it indeterminately. Somewhere in the back of my mind, it seemed as though God wanted me to rest.
Internal conversation I’ve had with God about rest:
Me: I have been resting for MONTHS now! Isn’t this enough? Can I get on to doing something meaningful and useful?
Have you REALLY rested? Are you REALLY resting?
Me: No, but it’s my fault because I have been sleeping late and doing nothing much except internet-ing. I have to be a responsible human being! I am almost twenty-eight! I don’t want to be a recipient of my family’s charity for too long. I want independence.
Me: I want them to be proud of me. I don’t want to depend on them.
Me: Because that would prove I am someone.
*imaginarily think God has His eyebrows raised*
Me: …ok. I have some issues.
I didn’t realize I built so many intricate idols in my heart until God started stripping them one by one.
Let me pause here to include a little bit about my physical health and how that plays into this whole thing. Since the end of December 2016, I started having this ringing on one side of the year, and soon the ringing was on both of my ears. The first month made it hard for me to sleep at night, but by now, I am used to this ringing (doesn’t make it any more pleasant, though). I also caught a nasty cold that barely left me about two weeks ago. And from late 2015, I have had this nagging and annoying pain in my right knee. So in the midst of my transition from Korea to Argentina, I brought with me knee pain + cold + ear ringing. Mind you, I am not a grandma, but a woman in her late twenties.
This added to the “What’s wrong with me? I don’t have a job, my body is a mess, I don’t get into grad school. What am I good for? I am that useless?”
Useless. Useful. My idol: usefulness.
I want to be a useful daughter for the Kingdom of God.
I want to adopt a bunch of kids even if I don’t get married.
I want to do something meaningful for education.
I want to make meaningful videos.
They are not bad desires. But the desire to do these things are not coming from my love relationship with God, but from my obsession with being a useful person. God becomes the means to this end. And this is a mindset I must get 100% healing from.
My mom, who is one of the few people who thoroughly knows me, keeps telling me: rest. You need rest. Your body needs rest. Don’t think of getting a job. Just tell me what you want to eat next.
My mom and my aunt (she’s like my second mom), have only been concerned with seeing that the ringing in my ears stop, which means they encourage sleep and eating at all times. And to be honest, I haven’t been doing those two things very faithfully (you got a glimpse of my thought battles above, and these things have made me uneasy about fully resting in my mind, which obviously affects bodily rest).
If my mom and aunt are like this, how much more God desires me to rest in Him?
My heart would be set on “this is a transitional phase… so what’s the next step?” And I know God is telling me that I need to stop thinking of it as a transitional phase because He wants me to be present here and now, walking alongside Him in this time He has given me in Argentina.
One thing I am sure of: all of our unhappiness and dissatisfaction does not come from God. It comes from sin. Sin leaves you craving for more in a way that sucks life out of you. God, once you embrace His Lordship and Fatherhood in your life, lavishes love in innumerable ways in such a way that you crave for more in a way that awakens life in you.
As rotten roots are being purged out of me, I am joyful to see how much unhappiness, uneasiness, guilt, and dissatisfaction are melting away into nothingness.
I think that’s why God is not showing me the “next” step. If I knew it right now, I would “too-faithfully” prepare for it with my 110% in my eagerness to be useful again. God doesn’t need nor want a work-to-death robot. God desires and rejoices in a daughter. I am learning to be a daughter of the King of Kings. This means being ready and joyful to receive rejection, suffering, and mocking from the world. This means giving up my idols of usefulness, and taking up my cross and following after my Savior. This means giving up my dreams of making my family “proud” of me through any kind of accomplishment. This means desiring to know God above all else, of responding to the pursuing Abba has been doing to capture my heart.
DISCLAIMER: If I have painted a perfect portrait of Argentina, let me tell you that I am having a new set of trials here:
-Being back with the family also means looking at their and my sins up close. It aint pretty many times. Judgmental Eli wants to rise up from the ashes too many times. Thank God for the Holy Spirit, who doesn’t allow for Judgmental Eli to judge for too long.
-Church members and some family members (since I left Argentina when I was six, this is my only circle of acquaintance; yet another reason it’s not very easy to transition back to my birth country) ask something along the lines of “So, you’ve been in Korea for eight years. Did you get a boyfriend? Do you have a boyfriend?” And when they hear me say “…no.” They ask very concernedly as though I am a human being who hasn’t thought things through, “DO YOU PLAN ON GETTING MARRIED AT ALL?” To which, if I get the chance, I reply, “Yes, I would like to get married, and I am ok with being single too.” And if I’m in a better mood, I lightly say, “Ha ha! I know, isn’t it so weird that I would never have a boyfriend? Please pray for me!” And we laugh together. On my bad days, I start realizing I am at that age where it’s not cute anymore to be single and be ok about it. So the criticism and the what’s-wrong-with-you and only-weird-personality-people-don’t-have-boyfriends-at-your-age thoughts will only multiply as time goes by. The main question for me is: will I allow those comments affect me more than what God tells me about Him, me, and the real purpose of marriage (showing Christ and the Church)?
-Some days, I feel like the family puts too much pressure on me to eat more; to fatten me up. I know they do this out of love, but it’s hard for me to not eat yummily sometimes what they have prepared to eat. There are times that I eat very well (this brings great joy to all), and days I don’t (this makes everyone concerned).
Conclusion in disclaimer: Compared to the “useful” worries I had back in Korea, these stresses seem so minimal that I realize I have virtually no usefulness and responsibilities required of me here.
I borrowed this post’s title from Relient K’s song “More than Useless”. I loved this song for a long time, and the only thing I’d change in the lyrics is from “do” to “be”. I think Relient K was a bit stuck on the “usefulness” idol like me ^^
But there’s no one to just be in the midst of my sickness with me. (I don’t even mean that I need someone to nurse me and take care of me in my sickness.)
I mean that there’s no one to just be there with me through it.
*Very advanced mind connection about to happen with something that has nothing to do with my physical sickness*
Perhaps this is what I’ve been missing when I listen to other people’s struggles: to listen to the hurt beyond the words. And be with them in the moment. To see their “sickness”, and while hoping for their healing, not making that desire overshadow the person I have currently in front of me.
To break it down:
People want to see healthy Eli soon. I do too.
But right now, I’m sick, sleepless, confused Eli.
“Oh, Eli, how sick are you? Are you ok? Is there anything you need? Have you gone to the hospital? What did they say?”
I don’t know how sick I am. All I know is that my doctor suggested I get hospitalized twice and I rejected the notion twice (because quite a few people told me that Korean doctors just tell you to get hospitalized for no apparent reason). I know that what I have is called tonsillitis and bronchitis (as a complication of my tonsillitis). But even more basic than this, all I know is that my throat hurts and I am spitting tons of phlegm and my breathing is a bit lagged. These are the realities I know.
I do want to get well soon and I am thankful for the millions of suggestions of what I should eat, drink, how I should rest, how I should move, what I should do, what I should not do… but I’d just like someone to see and acknowledge sick Eli: just as I am. Not bright nor useful nor pretty. Just sick Eli. I’m not sure what I mean by this, but in my sickeness, I’d like to just be seen. And maybe just be kept company. Like, just hold my hand and be still.
I hope and pray I won’t forget these thoughts the next time I see someone physically or emotionally ill. Because the hurting and aching in the world sometimes just need a silent companion to acknowledge their current existence and their importance at that very moment.
Yesterday my Spanish 2 (from now on to be called ‘pumpkins’ because that’s what I call them every now and then ^^) had their finals. And I think we all had fun!
I mean, so far, the chemistry I’ve had with my pumpkins has been great. All of them (except for one student, but he has quickly adapted to our class dynamics) have been with me since Spanish 1 (last year), so they all understand how I want our class to roll: fun + learning + good attitude and integrity. And thank God, they are all on board. I must admit, they receive a stern rebuke every now and then, but overall they are absolute angels. They are enthusiastic learners with great attitudes. What more could a teacher ask for?
Now, for their final exam, I asked them to memorize any of the Spanish conversations we did during the semester, and told them they were free to change the conversations up a bit. I was ready to grade it, but I was very pleasantly surprised to see my sweet pumpkins not only excel in their conversations, but put their own flair and creativity into them. Even my most shy students did such a great job that I forgot I was a ‘teacher’ and that I was supposed to ‘grade’ them. Why? Because they went beyond grading by preparing not only the necessary Spanish to pass, but putting their own color into it. And better yet! They were enjoying it! We were all smiles and laughs as they said their crazy lines and some of them even acted things out!
Then, believe it or not, things got better.
You see, along with their written exam, I gave them a survey. In it they had to rate from 1 to 5 how I, as a teacher, performed in different areas. Amazingly, some students put a 3 or a 2 on ‘Right amount of homework’ because it was “too…less” or “we need more <3” (Indicating they were thirsty to learn more!!!). Some students asked if they could add a 6 to the rating system. Some students got even more creative and wrote numbers like 25,736,278,695 for ‘Overall satisfaction with the class’. (TOO ADORABLE!!)
And lastly, after they were done with the written exams, someone mentioned the possibility of doing Spanish 3 altogether next year and we all cheered at the thought of it. My heart still flutters thinking about the positive vibes we had during our final exam (I mean, normally, finals are supposed to provide a ‘stressful/strained environment’, right? Not in our class!).
I am not saying this to boast my teaching skills, because I know I have none of that (I am barely on my second year of teaching!). I am the least of teachers. Instead, I am sharing this gem of an experience because I believe it is getting me closer to the heart of education (my quest since graduating college!), which is not about grades, or getting into a great college, but learning something meaningful together with the students. Both teacher and students are learners in the classroom.
I am so grateful to be experiencing this kind of class environment because I know it is something that is jointly made by the students and the teacher. And every time my students understand my heart and I understand theirs, I feel like there is more mutual trust and respect going and coming from each other. And that, inevitably makes subject learning more fun and interesting.
As I was taking a walk, I ran into sweet B and his wonderful mom J. B is around five years old (Korean age 6 maybe). He is the most imaginative, honest, and energetic Korean-American that I know.
We were in the car and B offered his mom one of his cookies. He said, “All of the cookies are broken except for one. Do you want the one that is not broken?” And J said, “Yes, sure! Wow, B, you are so generous!”
“What is generous?” B asked.
J explained something along the lines that being generous meant to give even though you might not necessarily have in abundance.
To that I added, “It’s something like this: Your friend asks you for a cookie. But instead of giving him one cookie, you decide to give him five cookies. Then we can say, ‘Wow! That was very generous of you!’ “
After a bit more expanding on the meaning of this word, we drifted on to other conversations.
Then, out of the blue, B says to me, “Here, have this!”
And what I see being put into my hands is a whole bar of sweets. Both his mom and I start laughing with joy at this.
We both exclaim, “Wow, B! This is so generous of you! It’s too generous!”
B is beaming ear to ear. Soon he grabs some more sweets and puts them in my hands. I thank him profusely and say that he is very generous.
Then, we hear an honest confession that just make us love him more.
B says with a slightly despondent voice, “Oh, now I only have two sweets.”
Captivated by his honesty and generosity, I say, “Well, because B has been so generous with me, I want to be generous with him too!” So I give him five of the sweets he gave me back to him.
He gratefully receives them, but to my surprise, after a while, when we almost arrived to our destination, B puts four more sweets in my hands.
I ask him, “Are you sure? You gave me too many!”
And I can see in his eyes and mannerisms that he really wants to give me his precious sweets. I gratefully receive it and exclaim, “You are so generous!”
I learned so much through little B today.
We, adults, think we know what words like ‘generous’ or ‘love’ mean, but don’t make the connection of transferring the good words we know into action. But this five-year-old, as soon as he learns the meaning of ‘generous’, decides to put it to practice.
It wasn’t easy for him because he could see his beloved sweets dwindling in numbers, but he realized there is joy in giving; there is joy in not stopping at just “knowing” what a nice word means, but actually doing it! There was an eagerness to connect head knowledge with action.