Thank You, Church

“and i guess i’m pretty different now, considering” –ani difranco, manhole

A few weeks ago a 9th grader called me old. Well, she said I was an old person. Which amounts to the same thing.
Shortly thereafter it was teacher recognition at my church. Because I’ve been teaching there for five years, I got a lovely chalice pin.
And then I started thinking about what it has meant to me to teach religious education.
When I started teaching RE I was about to turn 20. It was my second year out of high school. It had been a tumultuous adolescence. That’s the kindest way to describe it. A less kind way might be to say that it was a clusterfuck.
The previous year–my first year out of high school–I was a nanny for a little while, but putting a confused 19 year old in charge of infant twins is not a grand idea. Then I tried teaching gymnastics and being a student, and neither of those took, either.
So I was starting something new: just babysitting. and teaching RE.
And I loved it.
What gets me, when I think about it now, is that church was the first place to recognize me as a fully functioning adult. Having not known me during The Reign of Adolescent Horror, they had nothing to compare it to. There was never any sense of this is who I used to be, and this is who I am now. There was only: you are here. you are an adult. Welcome.
It was huge.
The youth recognized it right away. Right away, I was an adult for them. Not a teenager, with all the qualifiers that my kids usually put on it (are you a grown up, Vanessa?) just an adult. Simple as that.
Important as that.
And because that was how they saw me, that is how I learned to behave.
I went to see my psychiatrist the other day, as one does when one is on maintenance doses of drugs, and we were talking about the assorted medication I’ve been on. It’s a really, really long list.
“The thing is, Vanessa,” she said, “you’re different now then you were when you were on these drugs.”
And the remarkable thing is that shes right. I am am different then I was.
One of the ways I see that most profoundly is through church. Of course, I don’t always feel different. But at church, when I am working with the youth, especially those in the 13-15 year old group (mostly who I work with) that is when I see it.
I’m not sure how it is possible that ten years could have passed since I was 14. It seems, truly, like it was just last month that I was at WES, in my absurd uniform, trying to navigate being the most bullied kid in Episcopal school history. (That’s an exaggeration, by the way. It just felt like that). Or starting at Thornton: the first time I learned that I could feel safe at school. The first time I sat in silence, which was so hard and so important for me to learn.
But it has been ten years. I can tell because when I am with the youth at church, I do not feel like a teenager anymore. I feel, instead, like an adult. Even though I can–and do–genuinely enjoy these youth, enjoy their wit and brains and effervescence, their sheer beauty, I am not of them anymore. I am different. I know things that they do not, not yet.
In other words, I feel like their teacher.
And I am so very grateful on a daily basis for this church. For the place that took me in, then let me stay. For the place that taught me I am a competent adult. For the myriad ways they show me that I am trusted, that I am valued. For the minister of RE who makes all of this possible. For the first person I taught with, who showed me how to teach. For all the other wonderful people I have taught with, who have kept showing me how to teach. And most of all for the youth, who have made me laugh and made me think and made me fall in love, over and over and over.
Thanks, church.


One response

  1. Vanessa, this is beautiful. I hope someone at your church recognizes your statement as a real compliment, but also as the inspiration that I see in it. Jacomina

    April 11, 2010 at 4:46 am

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