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His Eye is on the Sparrow

The Ethics class I teach involves a project and a final presentation.  It seems easy enough — the students just have to stand us and tell us about how they took care of themselves this term.  My last group made it even easier on each other by being one of the most supportive and cohesive classes I’ve had in a while.

Their presentations were on the last night of the term, five days before Christmas.  The feeling in the room was anxious, leaning forward into their much-needed break.  One by one, they got up and told us about their self care.  They were funny, sincere, engaging and touching.  I was leaning forward into my upcoming time off, too, so I struggled to stay with them.  They brought me back again and again — the student who praise danced for us, the one who showed us how she wraps her hair at night, the one who made us all do jumping jacks, the one who broke down telling us about her abusive relationships and ended her presentation in a hug-pile with her classmates.

The last student got up, speaking softly but clearly as she always did.  She kept her eyes to the floor and told us she was inspired by everyone.  She had changed her mind while watching everyone else, and decided she wanted to sing for us — a song she would sing to herself to lift her spirits.  As I looked around, I could see my feelings reflected on the students’ faces.  This is so brave, such a gift.  What do we do if she can’t carry a tune?

Still looking at the floor, the last student started singing “His Eye is on the Sparrow.”  Her voice was clear, strong — it felt like someone you love singing you the perfect lullaby.  We sat silent as her voice grew stronger, as she closed her eyes and lifted her face.  We leaned forward. We were still.  I saw tears in some eyes.  With her face lifted and her eyes closed, she sang us through to the end of the song.  We exhaled, then stood and applauded her as she smiled and sat down, once again looking at the floor.

I wonder if she knows what she gave everyone.  She gave her class a memory to hold them together.  I am certain that for a long time, whenever they meet, one of them will only have to say, “Re,beer that time she sang?” and they will once again be connected, part of a loving community.

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