Spend a year with a word.
Is this a thing that people do? Was it a fad a while back that I completely missed out on? It sounded familiar to me as a woman spit the suggestion out in my direction last January.
Spend a year with a word.
Okay. Then what? Just see what happens.
It was August 24, 2014 when my brother dropped me off at the Syracuse airport. Although my flight didn’t leave until early the next morning, for me, the journey had begun. Before I left home, I had written myself a mental mantra: Teach love.
Teach love in Guyana. Teach it to the boys, teach it to myself. Wherever I see a moment, an opportunity. Take it. Teach it.
My journey with love, really walking hand-in-hand with it, was well underway before I was actually given the directive. My goal was, somewhat accidentally, already to hang out with love over the course of a year. It’s amazing how things like this come around. All of a sudden, a little extra perspective was given to the situation, to the year.
So why did I choose love? And what did a year with love look like?
At the time, I wasn’t in the mindset of choosing a word. I didn’t flip through the thousands of words available to me in a dictionary and opt for love. Love came naturally. Love was something I wanted to get to know better. Up until that point in my life one year ago, I had had both fleeting and prolonged interactions and experiences with love. But this time around the sun, love was going to be my best friend, my focus, my guiding light, my main squeeze.
Love was chosen over other words like hope, faith, passion, and depth because love is the ultimate. There is nothing greater. There was no competition. I had but one option.
And so I taught love. And so I spent a year with the word.
Today marks the conclusion of that year.
I wrote about our fight to make people love us last year. The struggle to make someone fall in love with you as quickly as possible. It’s an interesting concept, to say the least. I may need to revisit my stance on the idea soon. With this in mind, the fight, I set out to love the boys I would be working with. Especially my class. When I learned there would only be four working directly with me for the year, they were doomed to join the love-fest whether they wanted to or not.
While the other teachers taught their lessons with rods and the back of their hands, I pushed to keep my boys in line through discipline means that they had very little experience with. Eventually, they understood that they weren’t going to get hit for the year, and they learned to understand and respect that there were other ways to run and be a part of a classroom. So, we learned through the chaos. Math and social studies were taught in between the sounds of rods crashing into flesh from adjoining classrooms, dictation and poetry were slipped in between the sobs of the younger boys trying to comprehend their punishments. I was teaching with love as my guide, not fear.
In the immense freedom I was given in creating a grade 5 curriculum for the year, I added a few extra classes to the daily routine. Most notably, yoga and meditation. By mid-January, my classroom would fall silent every morning with the exception of the soothing music coming from my tablet that helped the boys drift into a meditative space. They were champs, capable of meditating for up to fifteen minutes without complaint. Many times, I’d just let them sit in silence, give them the chance to see what was going on inside of themselves. Other times, I’d guide them in meditation, always always always coming back to the idea of love. By the time October rolled around, love was the theme of our classroom. They didn’t necessarily all feel comfortable with this concept. I mean, come on, they were ten-year-olds. The word love freaked them out. But eventually, I think they got used to me telling them that I loved them. And, more importantly, I think they grew used to the general tone of our little corner of the building. We did high fives and pats on the back instead of lashing, conversation and discussions instead of screaming. The love opened us up to better communicate with one another.
When I started the year, I remember journaling: I’m going to love the heck out of these boys!
Then, half way through the year, I reevaluated myself and what I had said. I corrected my sentence to I’m going to love the LOVE INTO these boys!
The coolest thing about love, especially when it’s at the forefront of your year, is that it always comes back to you. Love comes back around. It’s just naturally programmed to do that. I’m sure of it. So, even on the tough days, when my boys were driving me bonkers, some other boy in the school would pay me a visit, sneak up behind me and hug me. Or my favorite pal in sixth grade would sit with me after school. Not saying anything. Just keeping me company. Radiating love.
My year with love was a cake walk. The only parts of the eleven months I spent abroad that I struggled with were the parts when I let fear take the reigns, when I temporarily forgot about love. Thankfully love is always waiting in the wings, ready to take control again. Love is easy. It’s so, so easy. It might be the easiest thing in the whole world. It’s light. It just happens naturally. If it’s not happening than something is wrong.
Love comes especially easy around kids. And these were no ordinary kids. They would never admit it, but they were (are) love machines. They are manatees in the shark tank. Peaceful giants, unscathed by the fear around them. It’s also easy to love orphans (or any child) growing up in such difficult living conditions. They may be the easiest kind of people to open your heart up to in this world–it’s once you’re deep into the experience of interacting with them (months in) that you need to challenge yourself to keep dishing out the same amount and kind of love. The people who aren’t necessarily easy to love are the people you wouldn’t normally think of off the top of your head as unlovable. But that is a whole different blog entry.
So love was my jam for the last 365 days. I did my best to teach it and I did my best to listen to the lessons it was trying to teach me throughout the year. I’m different for having put focus on this word for the year. It goes without say that my relationship with love does not end here. However, I look forward to selecting a new word to hang out with this coming year. Love is the ultimate, but I’m excited to hone in on something a little more specific. Love is so all encompassing, it umbrellas over all other worthy words.
There is nothing more important in this life than love. Everyone knows this on one level or another.
Perhaps this is why I felt the need to teach love, to dish it out in heaps. There is no better way to learn than to teach and, after all, we are the love we give.
Peace, my friends. I love you.