October is a month of celebrations. Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15th -October 15th, Bully Prevention Month, Pastor Appreciation Month, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and National Disability Employment Awareness Month are all celebrated during October. Not to mention MEA weekend for teachers, and Halloween! As a media specialist, it is my job to coordinate our daily news program at school focusing on various celebrations this month. With so many things happening, where should our focus lie? I believe that during this month, and every month, the focus needs to be on people!
In late September, I had the opportunity to hear author Jonathan Friesen speak at a library meeting I attended. Friesen has both Epilepsy and Turrets Syndrome. As a junior high student, he endured a grand mal seizure while in class. This incident labeled him a “freak,” by his peers and ultimately drove him to lock himself into his bedroom for two years! Finally, one day, one of his classmates decided to stop by and visit him for an hour, just to see how he was doing. This unexpected act of kindness encouraged Friesen and enabled him to return to school. Friesen went on to become a teacher and is now a successful author! You can learn more about him by visiting his Webpage: http://www.jonathanfriesen.com/. If you have time, check out his 5 minute video so you can also hear him speak, it’s inspiring!
Jonathan Friesen challenged me with this statement. “Now that I’m an author, I decided I’m only going to write books that answer two questions, because I think there are only two questions that students are all asking of each other. They’re simple, they’re so easy: Do you see me? Do you like what you see?” Wow! I think Jonathan Friesen hit it right on the head. When my students come in the media center, they need to know that they are seen and that their teacher likes who they see. Realizing this has changed the way I interact with children. I make it a priority to take attendance every day, calling each student by name, making eye contact with each person who walks through the door. I believe the saying is true, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I believe students are motivated to learn when they know they are loved.
Are Jonathan’s two questions applicable in the real world? I think so!
It’s not only students who are asking the questions, “Do you see me, and do you like what you see,” it’s all of us. As I realize this truth, I am led to a deeper question: Do I take enough time during my day to truly see people? Do I let them know that I like what I see? Effective human communication has suffered due to the accelerated pace of our society. In my rush to check everything off my “to-do” list before I head home, I don’t always take time to treasure the people I behold with my eyes. Do you find yourself in the same situation? Join me this month in my mission to see people!
Sometimes seeing other people is natural and enjoyable. Recently, my two little nieces moved home to MN where I now have the luxury of seeing them on the weekends. I love looking into their eyes, taking in how beautiful they are, and realizing that they look and act a little bit like me. I love them so much—I think I could spend a whole day just looking them!
Not everyone I meet is as beautiful or holds the same place in my heart as my nieces. Some people are hard to treasure and behold. It’s true. This week I walked into a hardware store needing some help finding an item. The sales associate I interacted with was cross-eyed. I wasn’t sure how to make eye-contact. It was awkward. As we walked through the store, he kept asking me if I was okay. “Are you sure you’re okay?” To satisfy his relentless questioning, I finally turned to him with a smile and said, “I have cerebral palsy, so this is my natural gait. I’m sure I’m okay.” As I turned to walk away I heard him sigh, “Oh.” I think we both failed to see each other.
While out for coffee this week, I was talking with a friend I have known for years about our shared experiences of living with respective physical challenges. As we were talking she made direct eye contact with me and I saw a look in her eyes of intense personal pain. The look in her eyes matched what I have felt so many times. It was like we were finally seeing each other….for the first time. Beholding someone is a powerful relational tool.
When beholding people with disabilities, I have found that patience is an important component, along with self-control. When I’m listening to someone who processes information slowly or has speech impairment, I often have to resist the urge to mentally check out, hurry the conversation, or finish the other person’s sentences because my mind is working faster than their mouth. It is in these moments, that I have started to challenge myself to behold the person in front of me. I stare straight into their eyes because I believe the eyes are the window to the soul. I remind myself of an important truth while I am waiting to hear them articulate their thoughts. “The person in front of me is a precious human being. They deserve my respect and my attention as a fellow member of the human race. They have a voice just like I do, and it deserves to be heard….I see you and I like what I see.”
This month you might find yourself studying Hispanic history, breaking up fights on the playground, sending a thank you note to your pastor, dawning a pink ribbon, or employing a person with a disability. While you are putting your finishing touches on your Halloween costume, consider leaving the mask at home. This month, join me on my mission to see people. Let’s let people know that they are noticed and treasured in the eyes of their beholders.