A Short Essay by Tiffani Burnett-Velez
Whenever Dean Pompa asks me to speak at Celtic Spirituality Night I always ask myself, “Why? Why would he ask me to speak when there are a million other people he could choose from?” And that makes me think, maybe, he asked me to reflect tonight because it’s December 29th, a nothing day sandwiched between Christmas and New Year’s, and let’s face it, he probably couldn’t get someone extremely important to speak. But then, I wonder if maybe he sees something in me.
And I wonder if this is how my students feel when I praise them for a job well done. If they think of all that’s wrong with them when asked to share their gifts. Not my evening students, where I teach at a local college. They expect me to find the good in them, to see their many achievements. To pull the best out of them. No, I’m talking about my daytime students. They’re recovering heroin addicts, homeless single moms, 40-year-olds with longer rap sheets than a work histories, 9th grade dropouts looking for a way to make a living wage, immigrants who can’t even say, “good morning,” in English. People who have no community, no support, no cheering section, except, my colleagues and me.
My daytime students come into one of my three classrooms expecting absolutely nothing to happen, but in their strength and fortitude, in their ability to smile despite their many sufferings, I see gold. I see a young mother who can most definitely achieve her dreams. I see the stuff she’s made of and I know she can master the GED. I see the recovering addict and I see the ironclad focus as he wrestles and fights with an essay about himself, and I know that he’ll overcome once more and he’ll keep doing it. I see the ESL student from wartorn Syria and I rejoice with her in acquiring new language skills, enough to sit through a job interview and begin working with the general American public and understanding what’s going on 80% of the time. I tell her, “One day, your American grandchildren are going to tell their friends about your amazing strength and how you survived one of the most brutal wars in human history, came to America with only a UN asylum recommendation, and made a whole career for yourself and provided for your family on a dream and the fumes of whatever strength you had left. You Are the American dream,” I tell her. And she thinks I’m crazy.
When I look at my students, all of them, I see gold. They see flaws, mistakes, tragedy, trauma, blood, death, failure, but I see the gold they have grown weary of searching for outside themselves. I think God looks at us this way. He triggers a detail in our personality for someone else to notice. They pull it out of us, hold it up in front of our faces and say, “You’re so good at this. You’re so talented at that. You know so much about that subject. You’re amazing.” And we automatically think they’re just being nice or need something and we’re the best they can get at the moment.
Yesterday, I completed a resume for one of my new students whose never had a resume before. He’s the one who never went beyond 9th grade. He has a beautiful spirit, a wealth of experience, a solid work history, a deep dedication to his family. But he really needs a job before his family gets evicted. His wife is laid up with blood clots in her legs from a daily 6 hour commute to and from New York City. He is recovering from a broken ankle. They don’t know a single soul in Pennsylvania. They think this place is a foreign country. I asked him a few questions, took notes, and in one page created a resume that reflected all the talents and hard-earned accomplishments of his life, a life he never thought too highly of. When I showed it to him, he almost cried. He asked for copies. “I’m gonna frame that,” he said. “I’ve never seen myself this way before. I look so good!”
“It’s because you
that good,” I said. “It’s all true. Just the facts of your life. Where you see no high school education, I see how you were promoted to supervisor and certified to drive a forklift in less than a year. I see how your boss valued your hard work so much that he kept you in his employ for nearly 20 years. I see your ability to speak English and Spanish fluently. I see how you’ve gone 13 states away to lay gas lines in Florida, so that your children in Brooklyn could eat. I see gold. That’s why you should never trust yourself to write your own resume. Let someone who believes in you do it.”
I think God looks at us this way. I think if he wrote our resumes they would shine so much brighter than when we write them. So, as you’re moving into 2019, and when you’re feeling low (because you will, we all do) and you’re feeling unaccomplished, weak in comparison to the outside, shallow standards the world constantly bombards you with, consider this: When God looks at you, he says, “She’s gold.” And he’s far more grateful for you than I even am for my amazing students, because he’s not just our cheering section, he’s our creator. He looks at you and says, “She’s beautiful. She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” And he’ll spend all of 2019 proving that to you through every good and perfect thing that comes your way. If you’re not focused on your failures, you’ll see these things--big and small--and they’ll be too many to list by December 29, 2019 when you reflect. They’re the same things you probably missed in 2018, when you were too busy being unsatisfied with yourself. You’re good enough. You’re better than that. You’re gold. To him, we all are. Let’s not forget that amongst the noise and chaos of a, sometimes, very unkind world.