By: Jonathon Medeiros, NBCT
I believe in water. I believe in surfing the wave I am on, not the wave I wish I were on. I believe in building, learning by trying, and in observing my failures. I believe in being curious, celebrating with purpose, building empathy, in questioning. Everything about learning in my classes is moved by these beliefs. Students learn by questioning, observing, being curious, and by building relationships with each other and with the places they live.
Years ago, my students and I were working to write “college” essays, and they all, to a person, struggled to write about anything real, actual, anything beyond the cliches we know too well. Of course, some of these cliches are still novel to a 17-year-old, but missing from all this writing was anything meaningful to their lives. Especially difficult were questions about their beliefs. This was maybe 17 years ago, starting my journey towards a class driven by examining our lives so that all of my students will, at the very least, leave my class able to say what they believe and with a curious eye towards their community this world over all.
One way we explore our beliefs and how we are connected is through purposeful observation of other peopleʻs views. I modified and expanded the famous This I Believe project started by NPR decades ago, adding films, songs, images, and kilo (purposeful observation) to the other writing prompts and activities. At the end of our month, students have learned about dozens of different peopleʻs beliefs and countless ways to live and express those beliefs. They have found connections between their lives and the lives of these artists and leaders, as well as to each other. Finally, they polished their belief essay and created images and sound pieces to accompany them.
What follows is an example from last year, our first full year back in person after COVID.
Learning From Losing
I was 15 years old when I moved to Kauai.
Imagine this scene: You are in Spain at a soccer ID camp on trial for a professional soccer team. That soft, bright green grass, the loud yells from the coaches, with silence in your mind. You have no worries; your only focus is on the ball. 5 minutes later, the phone rings.
They say that change and challenges are the only way for people to learn. But people get too attached to things that are not healthy for them during a change. They hold on too tightly to what they already know. I learned this the hard way, which is why I believe in letting things go, but not forgetting what those things taught you.
My phone started buzzing. I looked at it, and it was a call from my dad. I answered the phone immediately and replied with a quiet “Hello.” His voice was shaky. He said we were moving to Kauai within a month for his work. I had lost my dream of getting recruited in Spain to say my final goodbyes to everyone in California.
I arrived back in California a week later, in the middle of the COVID pandemic. I was heartbroken, sad, and demoralized. The countdown began. I took it week by week with whom I said my final goodbyes. My grandma and my aunt for the first week. My school friends next. And finally, my closest friends.
I left on August 1, 2020. I went from a month away from achieving my dreams, to moving to a foreign island with my family. So nothing else could go wrong. Right?
Wrong. I have completely lost contact with everyone after just 30 days of being on this island. I must’ve done something wrong? No. I didn’t. But, I put it all on myself. I was holding on tightly to that dream, that life in California, but it was now gone.
Why is letting go so hard to do? I believe you have asked yourself this question at least once and ended up frustrated because you can’t force yourself to do it even if you wanted to. Letting go is problematic because you must free yourself from some aspects of your past.
I realized that it was not my fault that they had removed me from their lives. I finally got rid of the pressure I put on myself to keep my promise of being there for them. I learned that I needed to pick better people. I realized that I needed to focus on myself. I realized that I need to not dwell on other things that I cannot control.
I learned that I needed to let go.
Throughout my 17 years, I have had several pets pass away. My mom passed away when I was just 7 years old. I have had divorced parents. I have moved to 3 different states and lived in 2 countries. I have gotten my dreams shattered at my fingertips away. I am someone who has gone through many traumatic experiences in life.
So why have I not given up yet? The answer is straightforward: Every single thing I have done in my life has led to a challenge or change–and in these 17 years, I have learned new ways to grow and overcome any little thing thrown at me. And to recall a quote that my dad always told me- “When you let go, you create space for something better.”
So maybe I didn’t achieve my dreams. Maybe my life felt like it was going wrong. But that’s okay. The challenges, the change, and the times I have been defeated–All the things that everyone is too afraid of moving forward from–are the things I have learned from the most. I let go, and now I have space for new dreams.