Rekindle the spirit

Sacramento teacher

On September 12, the day after the attack, a new kid transferred into the advanced English class that I teach at a local high school. The kid was shaking with paranoia when he asked me, “Why have I been transferred?” I didn’t blame him for his paranoia because the situation looked suspicious: His name was Abdul.

When I informed him that he’d been transferred because he tested high on his essay placement test, and that he was now in advanced English, he swelled with pride. From that moment on, he’s participated with a supernatural eagerness. He smiles brightly even if he gets an answer wrong and focuses passionately on each task I assign. English is his second language, yet he writes it better than most children his age.

Every day he’s in that class he makes his father proud. It’s obvious that his father or somebody has told him that this would never have happened in his homeland, that his whole family would be in jail right now or dead. One can see from his passion, and his unabashed awe when he peeks at the flag at the front of the room, that Abdul has learned more profoundly than most what freedom and opportunity really mean.

I dread the day when Abdul comes to class with a black eye. I dread the day when someone calls him a rag head or a murderer. I dread the day when Abdul’s hand stays down out of fear. I dread the day that Abdul’s pride and passion turn to bitterness and hatred. Today, he came to class with a smile. Tomorrow is up to us.

America isn’t our military. America doesn’t rest in the hands of our leaders or even in our right to vote. America rests in the hearts of children like Abdul who wake up every day proud to be American because we accept them and because America gives them what their family has never had: Freedom. Opportunity.

Children like Abdul remind us of the value of what we sometimes take for granted. He also reminds us of our fragility. The reason no terrorist in the world can kill the American spirit by blowing up our buildings is because the soul of America lives in the people who know what freedom and opportunity are truly worth.

Terrorists can’t kill the American spirit, but our ignorance surely can.