I've recently had my life changed by not one person, but by a whole group of people. 23 students and 6 mentors. The people who were with me in Jeremiah School. If you've been paying attention, you may know that I've been away at Jeremiah School for the past two months - hence the incredible lack of blogging - but I just returned for good today. Part of me wishes that I hadn't, though. Everyone I met there contributed to changing my life by accepting me, showing concern for me, and just plain tolerating me during the six weeks I had spent there.
Last night was truly a night of overflowing emotions and uncovered tears. All 30 of us gathered in an upstairs room (whoah, so cool-sounding!) and we sat in a circle and were given a chance to express any of our feelings that we wanted to share with the whole group. Now, I had definitely changed a lot by spending these past six weeks with them, and they have all either encouraged, inspired, or helped me in my growth as a Christian and person in one way or another. Of course I felt the utmost appreciation for each and every single one of them there - both the students and the mentors. There was no question as to how much they had done for me, and there was no question as to my appreciation and gratitude for them.
There was, however, a question as to how I should choose to express those feelings.
As we took turns around the circle to share our feelings, we were give the choice if we wanted to pass our turn on to the person next to us, for the time being, if we weren't ready yet. Of course, later on we came back to those who had skipped, so everyone had a chance to share. As people expressed one by one their appreciation and gratitude to everyone in the circle, and as several people needed to have tissues handed to them (it was a very emotional time - these things always are) and as my turn drew closer and closer, I knew that I would not be able to say what needed to be said without breaking down in tears. But, guys aren't supposed to cry! That would be un-macho! That was my natural thought process at first, but by now Iknew that this was not always naturally true. I had experienced a lot throughout the weeks of Jeremiah School, and I knew it was alright to cry.
At that moment, I had three options: 1. I could skip my turn and wait until the second round, by which time I would probably be more composed and able to share without crying, 2. I could just give a generic "I thank everyone here and I will never forget the fun we had" speech and avoid going anywhere emotionally deep, or 3. I could just come before them uncovered and reveal to them the emotions of my heart, i.e., I could choose to burst into tears and thanks them all from the bottom of my heart through a fit of tears and sobbing.
In the end, I chose the third option. I tried to start of by joking about how I was afraid that my application for Jeremiah School would not be accepted. The kind of thing people say during sharing on the first day. Then I tried to say that I I'd never had a community that was so loving and caring. But I couldn't say it. I said, "I've never had a community..." and then I stopped, trying to hold back my tears and stopping myself from choking up. I tried again a few times, each time failing. In the end, I had to take of my glasses and could hardly look at any of them for wiping the tears from my eyes. I just poured everything out before them in a fit of tears and sobbing.
I'm not ashamed that I cried.
I can't say I'm completely proud that I cried either, but well. Emotional things are always like that. You know.
When your life has been touched or changed by a person, of course you feel like want to repay them in some way, as an act of gratitude. We celebrate Father's Day, Mother's Day, and Teacher's Day. We get birthday presents for our friends, we take our mentors out for dinner, and we buy flowers and wine for our teachers when we graduate.
All these things are well and good. People feel appreciated when these things are done for them. They get the warm and fuzzy feeling that they truly deserve for all their compassion and caring. But sometimes, we aren't able to do all these things for the people we appreciate. I've left Jeremiah School now, and I'm not likely to see anyone of the students or mentors again anytime soon. I won't have the chance to take any of them out for dinner or buy them flowers. In such cases, the least that you can do - indeed, you're obliged to do it - is let them know, truly and sincerely, that you appreciate everything that they've done for you. "Hey, remember the time when I was alone by the drinking fountain, and you came up to me and invited me to play ping pong? That really meant a lot to me. Thank you."
It's okay to cry. Your expression, your words, your tone, your reactions, may all seem like outward things, but they reflect what is in your heart.
Even after buying the wine and the flowers, don't just present it to the teacher and leave it at that. Let them know what they did well and how it touched you, and how you appreciate it so much. That's important too.
People like teachers, mentors, and good friends are always trying to help out people who need help. By letting them know how much you appreciate what they've done, they'll know that they're doing things right. They will know how to help others with the same condition as you. One of my mentors once said, "Not only the students are changed. The mentors also learn from the students." If you let them know how they helped you, they will know how to help others in the future. It may be hard to understand, but some people pray that they will get the chance to help someone. In some cases, letting someone know how much you appreciate them can be the best thing you could do for them. You have enabled them to help others after you, which is a great blessing for them.
You don't have to cry in order for your appreciation to be authentic. When you thank someone, what matters the most is always the heart - it's never the presentation. Well, a dramatic presentation might make the occasion more memorable, but the reason you thank someone is never to create powerful memories. It's to encourage and affirm them. Tears are powerful and dramatic, but they aren't everything. Movies just use them often because they get to show off their actors. When you express appreciation and gratitude sincerely, it shows through other things - tone, choice of words, body language, etc., and the other person will feel it. The occasion might not stick in the mind as effectively, but it will most definitely remain in their heart.
Being able to feel appreciation is important. But it won't make a difference to the person who has helped you if you don't express that appreciation to him. When you tell someone how much you appreciate them, it truly matters. You've done what you're at least obliged to do for the person who has done so much for you with no obligations.