Tuesday, December 29, 2009


“There is much pain that is quite noiseless; and vibrations that make human agonies are often a mere whisper in the roar of hurrying existence. There are glances of hatred that stab and raise no cry of murder; robberies that leave man or woman for ever beggared of peace and joy, yet kept secret by the sufferer - committed to no sound except that of low moans in the night, seen in no writing except that made on the face by the slow months of suppressed anguish and early morning tears. Many an inherited sorrow that has marred a life has been breathed into no human ear.”
    --George Eliot, in Felix Holt, The Radical

    I’m an English teacher, not a therapist, but when I read this passage this morning, I couldn’t help but think of some of my students. In my classes, we sometimes have what Eliot calls a “hurrying existence” as we try to cover as much material as possible, but I know full well that there are always a few students in the class who are “suffer[ing] pain that is quite noiseless” as we go about pursuing our English goals. Unfortunately, the age of fourteen is not too young to experience crushing sorrow, and many children carry their sorrow into class like a wearisome weight. While the rest of us are dispassionately studying sentence variety in a short story, these students stay silent under the burden of their grief. I think of one girl in my class who has no friends, rarely smiles, and walks stooped over as if carrying an unspeakable load. I know, from talking with school counselors, that she is faced with daily instability and furor at home, and I can see the effects of it in her cheerless eyes. No matter what we happen to be doing in class, including laughing at a riotous scene in a story, she sits among us like a lost and passionless soul. Of course, my contract calls for me to teach English, not give guidance to forlorn teenagers, but unfortunately I’ve never learned how to separate the two. I’m not good at forgetting mournful faces as soon as a class ends. I can be enjoying a glass of Merlot in the evening, when the somber eyes of a student who has no idea where she will be staying each night will rise before me – a girl who is living with “suppressed anguish” every day of her life. I only wish I could help her as easily as I can point out sentence variety in a story.

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