What Do You Want Me to Know About You?

“What do you want me to know about you?”

I slipped this question into a string of far easier ones. What’s your name, do you have a laptop, what are you into, then I asked them the question that unzips their chest, the one that reveals something of the heart beneath.

I asked the question after completing a semester in which one student repeatedly lied to me about his absences, another dealt with a recurring illness, and another sat buried under the weight of financial problems. Unaware, I scribbled grades in my ledger and shook my head at what appeared to be a lack of commitment. In reality, these students carried more than books into the classroom, they carried their secret lives and personal struggles in with them too.

I am good at making assumptions. In fact, I’m so good at it, I could teach a class on how to place my life experience like a mask over the face of everyone I meet. I forget that my privileged, white, well-loved existence is not the norm for many, many people. It’s easy to dismiss the hidden pain in others when I keep my own pain hidden so well, even I must take a pick axe to my soul to find it.

I rifled through the sheaf of papers, and the answers to “What do you want me to know about you?” fluttered about and landed on my desk. At eighteen, some kids carry more than I ever imagined. And these are just the answers they were willing to share with me. I know there are buried things. I know because I have buried things too.

As I read the answers, I felt like Saul after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Saul, when blindness shuttered the light, but after the scales fell from his eyes, he was left with second sight. Revelation entered and he took on a new name, a new purpose, a new sight.

It takes second sight to see through the surface to the life pulsing beneath. I have found that the best way to peel the scales from my own eyes is to ask good questions, and listen for what is both spoken and unspoken in the answers. This is easier in the controlled environment of a classroom, I’m still learning how to ask good questions and leave space for the answers wherever my feet take me.

It seems like such a small thing: to ask the best and not assume the worst of other people. But, when I turn the question around to myself, I see I am an iceberg floating in still waters. To the untrained eye, I am serenity above, but so much of my life is submerged beneath the surface. What does it take for me to tell the truth and say, “This is what you need to know about me.” ?

It takes faith, and it takes good questions. This is a skill I am still perfecting, but when the scales of assumption and judgement fall from my eyes, I see clearly what was once invisible. I see we’re all waiting for someone to deep dive below the surface, and look on our submerged selves with kindness.

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