I just got back from serving breakfast to a group of middle schoolers at a youth group overnight. Apparently they call them lock-ins these days. The last one I went to, the youth pastor was playing his old Cat Stevens records to wake us up.
Serving breakfast to a group of teens really means laying out everything on a table and backing away. You sit across the room. You try to have your own conversation with other adults and refrain from observing your child too closely. Gone are the days where one must be at the ready to help put straws in the juice boxes. No adults will be needed to help two children negotiate a plan for the last chocolate donut. There will be no tears, no massive spills, no one sneaking food off your plate.
It's a different world.
Do you remember needing to step into a side room at the preschool where you could observe your child's interactions without being detected? There'd be a mirrored window so you could actually see what they did without you, because once they caught a glimpse of you there'd be no room for perspective whatsoever. They'd be in your lap in a second, or tugging at your arm, or hiding behind you, suddenly shy and silent.
Once you have a teen that mirrored window is just somehow magically there. All the time. You drop them off, they don't say goodbye to you. You arrive to pick them up, they don't really acknowledge your presence. You sit across the room as they eat breakfast with their peers and you might as well be in another room, behind a wall of mirrored glass.
I was thinking about all of this as I came back from dropping off my daughter last night. On the radio came this story, "After The Slaughter, A Pakistani School Seeks to Heal." They interviewed some of the teachers at the school in Peshawar where where 132 students and 12 of the school staff were slaughtered a month ago by members of the Pakistani Taliban. Many of the students who died were teenagers, like the kids I had just left behind at the youth group overnight. Middle schoolers.
A middle school teacher spoke about what life at the school is like in the aftermath of the attacks.
"We are now more loving," she replies. "We're showing more love to the students. Even those [kids] who used to make us angry in the past. We just go and hug them, and love them and just say, 'Thank God, you're OK!' "
Her words rang in my head long after the broadcast. Our world in Columbia Maryland is so different than theirs in Pakistan and yet everywhere there are middle schoolers who are pushing boundaries, getting on our nerves, in short, being teenagers. Many things may be different, but that is universal.
Also universal are the adults who care for, teach, guide, and love them. In Peshawar. In Columbia. How often do we, in our protected world, remember what a blessing it is that "they are okay"?
In the school where a month ago there was bloodshed, there are repainted walls, taller fences, and banners--
...many banners bearing the words, in capital letters: "I SHALL RISE, AND I SHALL SHINE."
So at the crack of dawn on a Saturday morning I am setting out the donuts and bagels and yogurt and juice. All is quiet and dark. We pull aside the slats of the window shades to let in the morning light.
Rise and shine.