Let me tell you about my Thursday.
I got to work around 8 am, carrying a cake for my co-worker’s birthday. I stayed up until 2 am making it. It tasted fantastic, so I heard. The weather was cool, and crisp, and dry. Perfect for caramel apple cake with dulce de leche icing.
After I hid the cake (it was a surprise) and bore witness to an angry student before our center even opened, I guided a meditation. 7 people came. I went back in my office and answered some emails. At 9:30, I heard about a miscommunication escalating to a fight, lawsuits threatened, people’s jobs in question. I fielded phone calls from other offices. I cleared my schedule to attend an urgent meeting. A student worker left early from the office because her grandfather passed away. I sent her a text: “So sorry my love. May everything run smoothly. Let me know what you need.”
At 11 am, I set up for a student affairs colleague meeting. We ate lunch and vegan cookies that I brought for the birthday celebration. We discussed mental health issues on campus. Our students are all over-worked, sleep-deprived, and expected to be happy, productive individuals every moment of every day. We imagined a potential collaborative internship for our students that would focus on an exploration of intersectionality and identity. I texted my partner to see if he was awake. He said he would bring the apples by 1:20. My shoulders relaxed. “Thank you,” I texted back. I scribbled some practically illegible notes.
As our meeting was ending, I texted back and forth with a student leader about which flowers to buy for the birthday girl. We went over the surprise plan. I would stall her until my student sent me the ok, at which point my co-worker and I would head to a “meeting” across the hall. I said goodbye to my colleagues and walked back into our office, to find a student crying on the phone. My phone buzzed with the text “Come now, hurry!”-birthday time.
The crying student, my co-worker and I each took a deep breath. We processed the student’s anxiety all together. Finally, as suavely as possible, I ushered all three of us across the hall again for the birthday surprise. Everyone shouted. My co-worker sped out of the room for a moment. The students had arranged the cake, caramel apples, and gifts on a beautiful table. “This looks like the Garden of Eden!” My co-worker exclaimed. We watched the videos and messages the students filmed- one included pictures of me and her, one a choreographed dance, and one a Scooby-Doo parody. We laughed, and secretly, my throat began to choke up. Did she enjoy the surprise?
Another serious, tense meeting began just as the party finished. This one included several students- they felt angry and scared, but determined. As I finished cleaning, I gave the student who put all the videos together a massive, shoulder gripping hug. “Thank you so much for doing that,” I looked into her eyes. “I think she loved it.”
Back in my office, I found another distraught student. “What’s going on?” I asked. She didn’t want to talk, just sit in quiet. The sound of new emails sliced through the air several times. I got up to fill my water bottle. Students sat strewn around the front desk, the chairs leading to my office, and everywhere in between. The phone rang at the front. No one answered. “The air is tense in here!” Someone said. “MmmHMMM,” I murmured back with a mouthful of water.
Suddenly, the student who bought flowers for my co-worker appeared. She snapped her fingers. “Can you do something!?” I jolted up, hitting my knee on my desk. My water bottle toppled over.
One of the students in the serious meeting had fainted in the Director’s office. I tried to ask everyone to leave. I closed the door. Clutching his head and slumped over, the student explained, “This is too much. Everyone hates me right now. I have an assignment due tomorrow that I haven’t started and I’ve had two weeks. This meeting was so stressful. It’s too much.” One of his best friends had stayed in the room. She touched his hand. “I’ve been there,” she consoled him. “Sometimes you just have to fall apart. We are your friends. We’ll hold you up.” After a few more minutes, the student seemed stable. I quietly excused myself to continue an email exchange about a scheduling conflict in our Sacred Space. The crying student sobbed again. I took in a breath that filled my whole belly, and let it out slowly, through my teeth. My body instinctively stood up again to refill my water bottle.
Back in our Director’s office, I witnessed something that evaporated all the emotions I was so carefully juggling. The two students were hugging. They were smiling and giggling. They stayed in the embrace for a few moments. A tear silently grazed my left cheek. My lips lengthened into a slight smile.
You see, the student who had fainted is a Muslim, very active in the Islamic Society of Northeastern. He is also a Jordanian-Palestinian American. His friend, holding the fragility, channeling her empathy and care into the shattered young man before her, is Jewish. Their friendship exists in tension with the wider world. In other places, perhaps even in the same city, these two people could negate the humanity of the other. They could ignore each others’ existence. But they don’t. Instead, they choose friendship, they seek connection.
Sometimes we need to shatter for our souls to be assured that we are connected, we are seen, we are loved. In the midst of the pain, violence, and terror our world faces, maybe love cannot save us from breaking into a million pieces. Love makes the tiny slivers, the shattered pieces, sparkle like stained glass that is kissed by the sun.