Last Friday was the final day of summer school, which meant it was my final day with Stan. That is, of course, until school starts back up in a few weeks.
As I look back on this summer, I have been hit with the mutual learning that has taken place. As I said earlier in this series, working with Stan, and my other special education students as well, is an exercise in co-learning. It is not just me teaching them; in many real ways I am taught just as much, if not more.
I’ve also been reflecting upon Jean Vanier’s life and work with the less-abled. Back during this past season of Lent, I shared Vanier’s seven aspects of love taken from his amazing book, Becoming Human. The more I marinate in his thoughts, the more I find truth deeply embedded within them. He is not a mere thinker, but is one who has given his life to those at the margins of society: the weak, the feeble, the downtrodden, the vulnerable.
I’d like to share some of these aspects again as they have been at the core of this little blogging project. It has been my conviction that the more we reveal, communicate, and celebrate those around us, the more we begin to live as God intends. Paradoxically, I have found Stan and his friends to be the ones who have taught me much about love, community, and forgiveness even as it seems I am the one doing the above things. There will never be a “Thank you” attached to the work I do with these students, but that does not negate the work my friends and I have given ourselves to. What it has done, however, is taught me the necessity of doing work regardless of it being noticed or not. Furthermore, I have learned the communication of thankfulness transcends the verbalization of the words, “Thank you.” There is a deeper sense of communication that takes place when you move beyond spoken language (especially when it is not available, as is the case with many of my students) and begin to know others through body language, moods, and actions. All of this re-learning takes patience and constancy: the bedrocks of love.
When I step back and am attentive enough, my eyes are open to their subtle revealing, communicating, and celebrating of me.
I pray as you read Vanier’s words below and examine the drawings of Stan that follow, you will ponder who it is in your life – perhaps someone unlikely – that you need to love through revealing, communicating, and celebrating.
The first aspect of love, the key aspect, is revelation…To reveal someone’s beauty is to reveal their value by giving them time, attention, and tenderness. To love is not just to do something for them but to reveal to them their own uniqueness, to tell them that they are special and worthy of attention…As soon as we start selecting and judging people instead of welcoming them as they are – with their sometimes hidden beauty, as well as their more frequently visible weaknesses – are reducing life, not fostering it. When we reveal to people our belief in them, their hidden beauty rises to the surface where it may be more clearly seen by all.
Communication is at the heart of love…I have learned that the process of teaching and learning, of communication, involves movement, back and forth: the one who is healed and the one who is healing constantly change places. As we begin to understand ourselves, we begin to understand others. It is a part of the process of moving from idealism to reality, from the sky to the earth…We must learn to listen and then to communicate.
It is not enough to reveal to people their value, to understand and care for them. To love people is to celebrate them…they need laughter and play, they need people who will celebrate life with them and manifest their joy of being with them.
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This morning my Special Education student and friend “Stan” came in enthused about drawing another book. This one was to be entitled “Once Upon a Time” and would center around he being the king of the castle and his sister being the queen.
In normal Stan fashion, everything started out well with just a few crumpled up papers ending up in the trash. After a little while of drawing, the 4 pages below were finished. We moved on to doing some work with the storybook waiting to be continued.
Much to my surprise and dismay, Stan suddenly decided these pages and story were not worth furthering. Thoroughly crumpled, they ended up in the trash can never to be mentioned again.
I’m always stunned when things like this occur because in my mind and eyes, they are great works of labor and love. Yet, for some reason unbeknownst to me, Stan either loses interest, doesn’t like them any longer, or has something else in mind worth drawing. There is never any reason given; they are thrown away as quickly as they are drawn and with the same amount of prompting. It is just something to be accepted.
Regardless, I thought this unfinished storybook was worth digging out for the eyes of you all. Here they are, wrinkles and all.
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The following is the story “Stan” told me the other day through words and pictures. This is the third installment in this series. The first piece explains the thoughts behind what I am doing. The second entitled “Weather” is a detailed account of various weather patterns and related things.
I am beyond thankful for his gifts as they expose the beauty he has within. All of us have stories we long to tell, stories that make up who we are. Some are better at writing them, while others tell them. For Stan, he draws them. For a young boy who cannot always find words, his drawings embody and manifest what it is we cannot see. They bring to life through color and line what he cares about most. Hence, the reason why his brother (or as he would say, “brudder”) is a recurring character in his drawings.
It always brings a smile to my face when I see adults who haven’t been around him see his artwork for the first time. Amazement, awe, and dropped jaws are common reactions. I’m not sure if it is disbelief, dumbfoundedness, or inspiration, but whatever the case may be, I am beginning to believe that for many his drawings are an avenue of seeing a light within a boy many either write off or have doubts about.
And that is what this series is about: letting his light shine.
I’ve tried my best to recount the words he told me that accompany the drawings below. I hope you will find beauty and love as Stan’s light continues to grow and shine.
People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within. – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Then the woman brings out the big seatbelt because the seats don’t have seatbelts, right?…
Then the pilot makes sure everything is turned on…
Then we fly over the mountains.”