Last week, a student flopped herself in a swivel chair in my office just before class, to tell me she plagiarized her poem. Her eyes were so charged and black that it was as though she surprised herself when she told me.
I wanted to hug her, to show her that the pressure isn’t that much, that I don’t mean to place an anvil on her, that I won’t check beneath her heavy hands to see if she pressed out the right words.
Three weeks ago, a student told me she was nearly three months pregnant, though I never would have known to look at her. I gave her pickles, decaf chai, unsolicited advice.
I wanted to know what it was to be a pregnant student, to touch my stomach and feel the knowledge growing from behind my belly button. When I got home, I hugged my boys tighter, wishing I could give my student some definition, some synonym to memorize.
Today, I read a poem from a student, revealing that she was diagnosed with cancer last month. I read it and re-read it and nearly cried. I checked her attendance for the past two months: she had not missed one class. She had lost her hair in the midst of discussions about the concrete, caesuras, diction, imagery.
In my mind, I contrasted my MS diagnosis, attempted comparison, but couldn’t, the only notes I had on the experience were at home, scribbled in a journal given to me by a friend. We will discuss her poem in class, and I will sit hushed, with guilt heavy as fatigue.
How can I grade life as it is just-lived?