i always tell people that my favorite movie is the breakfast club. if you haven’t seen it, drop everything and watch it right. this. minute. if you have seen it, then you know i mean “favorite movie” in the sense that lucky boys is my “favorite breakfast burrito place” — everything about it is perfect, but it’s not something i could do every day unless i want to end up fat and miserable. the film doesn’t make me fat, but any time i hear the first few strums in that simple minds song, i’m pretty much already ugly-crying.
the breakfast club is on a long list of movies my dad made me watch because “he swore they were awesome”. some others on this list included: fargo (literally what is happening), brazil (the title makes no sense), and soylent green (i just can’t). so imagine my eye-roll when my dad carved out time in his day to show me yet another movie. (mind you, this is before smartphones could silently entertain teenagers while they’re parents tried to hang out with them.) well i can tell you that i was proven wrong that day; my dad had picked a winner. within minutes i was sold to the story of the brain, the athlete, the basketcase, the princess, and the criminal. the lives of five high school students — all from very different worlds — intersected on a saturday morning spent serving time at the mercy of their principal for crimes they committed against the humanity of secondary education. john hughes’ gift of story-writing just comes alive in this film, and i am better because i have seen it.
i have a framed picture of these five individuals that i’ve long kept in my office, with a david bowie quote from the beginning of the movie: “and these children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds, they are immune to your consultations. they are quite aware of what they are going through.” i keep this picture in plain view, in an attempt to continually remind myself of the very potent truth the film portrays: there is a deep, real, raw level of humanness that we all possess. when we are most vulnerable, most exposed, and most honest, we all quietly admit that we just want to be accepted, loved, enough. we want to be acknowledged and believed in, and reminded that we are not alone in this thing.
when i have hard conversations with college students who have made terrible mistakes, i keep this picture in mind. i see it when i sit on my couch with young women who trust me with the deepest corners of their hearts, when i mediate conversations between co-workers who are fighting because life is just so messy sometimes. i think of it when i feel the resistance of students who hate me for enforcing the rules they agreed to follow, when they lie through their teeth even though they know i only ask questions i already know the answers to. i remember their humanness and i keep it mind as i figure out a way to encourage them along to the answers. i constantly try to remember that they have their whole heart in this thing and they are all just trying to make it, experiencing their own stretching and growing as their lives intersect with others. these years are hard and gross and long and yet sacred and fragrant, and wonderfully, impossibly short. i think of their unstable identities and misguided momentum every time i walk back in through the doors of this home of mine. i wish they could see me carefully craft together their discipline letters, where all i want is to help them. i know it’s hard. i think of them, i do. and it makes me treat them better, speak more tenderly, listen more fully.
and sometimes i am confronted with my own raw humanness. there are moments where i am most vulnerable, most exposed, and most honest. it is in those moments i remember that i, too, just want to be accepted, loved, and enough. i am just like them, lost and trying to figure it out. i am just like them, with an insatiable thirst for a more wild and colorful life. i am just like them, amazed that sometimes, despite my best and most authentic efforts, i have disappointed them. i have proven my finite humanness and limitations. and those moments hurt like hell.
however, in my five years of working and living amongst college students, i have found that there is nothing sweeter than these moments. the moments of saying all the goodbyes, reading all the notes, and having nothing else to do except cry hot tears in the parking lot of trader joes because i’m just going to miss them so much. or the moments of feeling so simultaneously loved and uplifted and yet so betrayed and misunderstood that i am rendered speechless and laying on my bathroom floor. it is in those moments that i feel like i can’t wait to do another year of this but also i want to quit right now so i can rid myself of all these feelings. it is in those moments that i understand these students all the more. i get it. i am no different than any of you. my heart is fully in this thing, and it sucks. and it’s awesome. but it sucks.
i’m self-aware enough to know that i have a lot more years behind me than i do ahead of me in this crazy weird work that i do. and whatever is next will, i’m sure, take up a lot of my words in this tiny internet corner. but for now, i rest in the fact that of all the millions of things that separate all of us from each other, there is a real, tactile, beautiful thing that binds us that we cannot deny; our humanness. i think keeping that in mind may just help us treat each other a little bit better.