erin ahnfeldt

Listening to Life

Aurora fell in the cafeteria.  She stepped on some water, and when she slipped, the kids all around her just laughed.  No one offered to help.

She told our class about it, and at first, she shrugged it off, like it was no big deal.

“Aurora, I’m sorry,” I said.  “That’s rough falling like that in front of everyone.”  I walked toward her as I spoke, and tears filled her eyes.

“Yeah, it was hard,” she said. “I get bullied because of my weight.”  She looked down at her desk, and I handed her some tissue.

As she dried her eyes, I told her I was glad she was in our class and that I was sorry people were mean to her like that.  I tried to comfort her, but I don’t think it helped.  Honestly, when it feels like the world’s against you, a teacher’s voice in the midst of all the lies is hard to believe.  My heart ached watching her cry, and painful memories of my own tears in 7th grade crept up on me.

Thankfully, Aurora doesn’t have a problem sharing in class.  She’s an extrovert, but I think a big reason she talks is because it’s her chance to feel valued.  Whether we’re writing journals or sharing “good things,” she’ll raise her hand and tell us about shopping with her mom or that time she tried to dye her hair but washed it too soon.

A few weeks after she told us about her fall, we were sharing more “good things,” and Aurora raised her hand.

“I’m gonna dye my hair again after school today,” she said.

“That’s exciting, Aurora,” I said.  She smiled and told us this time she’d use blue.  Then I scanned the room, looking for more raised hands.

Joe sat in the back of the class, wearing his black and white Jordans and his black hoodie zipped halfway.  He’s a baseball player and a leader with a great sense of humor.  Walking into class, he’ll shout out, “What’s good Mr. Ahnfeldt,” and then smile as he saunters to his seat.

“Hey Aurora,” he shouted across the room, “this time when you dye your hair, make sure you wait before you wash it.”  The tone of his voice wasn’t sarcastic or mocking.

I looked at him questioningly.

“You know,” he said, “so she doesn’t wash the color out again.”

I couldn’t believe it. I looked at Aurora to my left and then at Joe to my right.   He didn’t know Aurora at all.  She wasn’t part of his friend group.  They didn’t have similar interests, and Joe certainly wasn’t into dying hair.  He just remembered what Aurora had shared weeks earlier about being too quick to wash her hair, and he wanted to help.

He wanted her to know she was seen, that someone saw her for more than just the brunt of some joke.

Aurora nodded with a smile and class continued, but that moment was one I tucked away in my heart like one of my old baseball cards I used to slip carefully into the plastic sleeves to treasure and show off to my friends.

A couple of weeks ago, our principal held a staff meeting to kick off this second semester.  She wanted to talk about the state of our school and where we’re headed.  Some assessment scores went up, and we celebrated, but one comment she made resonated more than any assessment score ever could.

“This year,” she said into the microphone, “I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but I’m seeing more kindness.”

She’s right.  I’m seeing it too.

But the stories published in the papers are the fights, the SWAT team visit, and the gunman.  Those are the stories people read, and if the darkness is all we hear about, we’ll miss the moments when people choose to be kind.

It’s strange to say, but that darkness is helpful.  It only makes the kindness I’ve seen that much more beautiful, kind of like the darkest nights help us enjoy the stars.

Watching Joe reach out to Aurora stirred my heart in ways hard to describe.  And as I watch God sprinkle those moments into the darkness, I’m filled with a kind of wonder I remember getting as a kid looking up at the Milky Way on my grandpa’s farm.

I see it everywhere.

One day, Alisyn had been crying.  Her head was down for most of class, but when the bell rang, she walked up to AJ and gave him a hug.

“What’s going on?” I asked, knowing neither of them really talked to each other much.

Alisyn showed me the note AJ had written for her, and the brightness in their eyes twinkled like starlight as they spoke.

I saw it again during 7th period.

Wearing his baby blue do-rag and white sweats, Solomon leaned over and whispered words of comfort to Alex.  Her cat had just died, and even though the two of them couldn’t be more different, Solomon found a way to show Alex she mattered.  Again, like a bright star, as bright as Solomon’s smile that day, kindness lit up my classroom.

It’s there when Kyleem says, “Have a blessed day, Mr. Ahnfeldt” as he walks out of my class, and I see it when Danny barrels into my room to give me a hug.

There’s a Milky Way of kindness that flows through the school where I work, and it didn’t just appear there randomly.

James describes God as the Father of stars:

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17).

The smile someone gave you, the friend who sat with you at lunch, the stranger who helped you change a tire—those moments aren’t random.  There will always be gunmen, fights and bullies.  There will always be darkness, but the Father of stars sprinkles our lives with “good and perfect gifts” that twinkle and shine in that darkness.

I’ll never stop being in awe of what I’m seeing.  I’m sick of the darkness getting all the attention so I’ll celebrate those moments of kindness with everything I’ve got.  It’s about time the stars get a little publicity too.  And it’s about time we celebrate the Father who gave them to us.

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