Bridge to Nowhere

Roses are red

Violets are blue

I want this lesson to be over

Just as much as you

Last week, I started a unit on poetry with the high school ESOL (English to speakers of other languages) class I have been student teaching for a few weeks now. Although my lesson on figurative language seemed to be a success on Tuesday, Wednesday’s focus on the poetry of Langston Hughes proved to be as much of a train wreck as the Shake Weight. Eyes glazed over, sweat appeared, and desperate pleas for a time check occurred every five minutes… and that was only my reaction.

Naturally, the sad affair was caught on camera. Had the file not been accidentally deleted, it’s the kind of thing I’d watch with the shades drawn while drinking a beer float. Or, mute and sync with Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” in hopes that something significant would surface in its replay.

When I began this grad program, I anticipated imparting everything I knew and loved about English to those who have a genuine need and/or interest in learning how to communicate with the language. In actuality, the teaching profession has catapulted me into a perpetual student role that has made me rethink a lot of the words I thought I knew as well as Salt-N-Pepa lyrics. Take “empathy” for example.

For my “Exceptional Children” class, I read an article titled “Exploring the Experience of Autism Through Firsthand Accounts” by Laura Cesaroni and Malcolm Garber. One of the participants in the study is a 27-year-old man named Jim who very articulately shares his experience of living with autism. When addressing the commonly held perception that autistic people lack empathy and are unable to take others’ perspectives, Cesaroni and Garber write, “While empathy implies the capacity for participating in another’s feelings or ideas, Jim believes that in practice this often means projecting one’s own feelings on to others. He states: ‘It is therefore much easier to empathize with someone whose ways of experiencing the world are similar to one’s own than to understand someone whose perceptions are very different.'” As a result, Jim says he is often misunderstood. He explains that contrary to popular belief, an autistic person actually expends an enormous amount of energy trying to connect with others while the effort from the opposite party is often disproportionate.

At some point during the course of my studies, I heard that you often end up teaching students in the same way that you learn as an individual, in spite of hearing how important it is to address all learning styles. I’d even extend this statement to include that we are often guilty of loving others in only the way we are most comfortable with and know how. We might try to reach out and empathize, but rarely do we acknowledge that to be successful in these attempts, we might also need to adjust and redefine our truths and ourselves. That which we tend to label a deficit in the other person is likely just a difference.

Before I recently chopped my hair, I often got compared to Tina Fey and, unfortunately by default, to Sarah Palin. Although Russia’s most famous neighbor is equally famous for her association with the “Bridge to Nowhere,” I wanted to share a different perspective on construction and communication that has me in a rebuilding phase. Jim, the 27-year-old man living with autism, penned this:

I built a bridge

out of nowhere, across nothingness

and wondered if there would be something on the other side.

I built a bridge

out of fog, across darkness

and hoped that there would be light on the other side.

I built a bridge

out of despair, across oblivion

and knew that there would be hope on the other side.

I built a bridge

out of helplessness, across chaos

and trusted that there would be strength on the other side.

I built a bridge

out of hell, across terror

and it was a good bridge,  a strong bridge,

a beautiful bridge.

It was a bridge I built myself,

with only my hands for tools, my obstinacy for supports,

my faith for spans, and my blood for rivets.

I built a bridge, and crossed it,

but there was no one there to meet me on the other side.

2 responses to “Bridge to Nowhere

  1. Strange how I can feel as if I let him down.

    Thanks, M’Olivia. I will spend today thinking more about hope. While it is not of the realm Paul intended, it reminds me of the concept of faith and works – that neither faith without works nor work without faith will allow us to reach our goal.
    I also will be thinking about what we tend to mean when we pick people out as ‘great communicators’. Oratory skills aside, I am reminded of how much some people manage with a single glance or a sigh, the arch of an eyebrow. But you have tweaked me into thinking about how much attention I must be paying to them to read all that into their behavior. Whew! Enough for today.

  2. Yo, I think I just got my second shout-out in your blog. I’ll take the credit as the video-eraser, though I felt terrible about it!

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