Written by Gillian Henry //
Buses, trams, the metro screeching underground, pedestrian crosswalks streaming people. Snow boots, leather boots, Converse, sandals. Squeaking snow, slushing muck, puffing cottonwood, blowing dust. To school, to church, to friends’, to the market. This was my every day.
College freshmen. Classes rushing, cafeteria clanging, armchair studying, passing the weight room packed. Indoor track packed. Sidewalk to babysitting deserted.
“Hey, Gillian, how was your day?” … “You walk to babysitting?”
They ran over a few miles every day. Why? To be in shape, healthy, or something.
I walked. Why? Snow boots, leather boots, Converse, sandals. Squeaking snow, slushing…why not?
Mondays tutoring. Elementary school library. Smell of garlic and foods I’d never eaten lingers on backpacks, on coats. She spots me and smiles, dark eyes bright, dark hair framing her first grade face. Away from the chatter and laughter of her classmates, we open her book on a beanbag. Sounds come choppy, the words drag, she doesn’t get it. My heart sinks with her frustration. Later, laughing, shouting, running, leaf-kicking or snow ball throwing we straggle along the straight sidewalks past large houses and neat lawns. We come upon the alley, and kids scatter. Same smell of garlic wafting from apartment windows, detergent pungent from the basement. She’s home. I greet her father smiling shyly and her baby sister staring, dark hair cut short sticking straight up with gold earrings on her tiny ears.
Thursdays. After babysitting, I walk two blocks, cross the pedestrian-hostile street and I reach her apartment. Her dark eyes bright, dark hair framing her first grade face. Her father smiles shyly. I take off my shoes. Her mom nervously laughs and scoops up the baby who tries to take away the pencil and steps on her sister’s folder. On the brightly-colored bamboo mat, I read a page and she reads a page. Later, boots zipped, I turn to leave, but her father speaks to her. She turns to me. “My dad will give you a ride because it’s cold.”
If I wasn’t walking to my babysitting job, I would not have had the opportunity to stop by her apartment in addition to tutoring her on Mondays. If I hadn’t been walking, her dad would not have driven me back to campus each cold night. Up in the front seat, I heard, through broken English, of soldiers burning his home in Burma, of very few years of schooling, of the refugee camp in Thailand, of his current job at the factory.
This is the story of my everyday: walking the streets of my home in Russia, squeaking snow, slushing muck; and the story of my freshman year of college in a suburb of Chicago.
What is your everyday?
Where do you walk? Who are your friends? Where do you go? What kind of everyday are you accustoming your children to?
You could begin, or continue maybe, to use your lifestyle for justice. As your story becomes one of living justice, maybe you can relate to my pursuit of the same…
Thursdays, junior year of college. After babysitting, still I walk two blocks, cross the pedestrian-hostile street, and I reach her apartment. Her father smiles a bit less shyly now and greets me, asking about how I am as I take off my shoes. Her mom nervously laughs and scoops up the toddler; she stays in the room, still quiet but at ease. On the brightly-colored bamboo mat, I take out pictures of my trip to study abroad in Tanzania. Her mom has never initiated conversing in English with me – just a few words translated through her daughter. Now as I show her pictures from my homestay in rural Tanzania, her eyes brighten and she manages a few sentences about the similarity to Thailand and of her memory of the pots.
Not so far from her apartment is a little school.
Senior year, student teaching. Ten of my 20 students come from families like hers. Writing class. The writing examples tell of deer in the road or a pet dog in trouble or illustrate houses with garages. That Thursday I visit her as usual, and I see that my 10 students can’t relate to deer intruding on road trips or pets or garages. So, for the next writing example, I draw her apartment. In class I tell of a rainy day when her sister had a birthday party; how the adults sat on the floor in the kitchen making something yummy, how the kids played outside catching drips from the apartment’s walkway above. Ten pairs of eyes shine brighter than usual.
Next summer. Her math is struggling, so I visit twice a week – once to work, sing, play math. Another time to take her somewhere. Sometimes her family comes on our adventure. One of these times we visit a free outdoor museum: 1800s, farm, skirts, ice-cream barrel, chickens, hayride, horse and plow. She and her sister chatter, ask questions, run.
“What is that, Gillian?”
“That’s a plow” I turn to her mother, “Did you have this in Burma?”
She nods at me shyly, turns to her daughters, and tells a small story. I don’t know if she will ever tell of the fires or fleeing through the jungle, but here looking at a plow she can teach her daughters what she knows from home.
Not so far from her apartment is that little school and my first job teaching: English as a Second Language. All of my students come from families like hers. Her mom worked at a store. I learned where it is and now I have a skirt from their country. My parent-teacher conferences – that is what I wore. At the break in conferences, the staff eats dinner together. I sit at the empty table with the translators. They ask about the skirt; I tell them of her family, and I ask of their lives at home and in their new home.
If you came over for tea, I would tell you more stories. As we learn to live this way, there’s no “the end” because this is not a missions trip, a project, or a career. This is life. A living, breathing, embodiment of justice, of who Jesus is to me.
Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with your God.