After getting the Migrant Literature course approved with corrections through Curriculum Committee I return to the office to grade online submissions and answer and delete email. An hour or so in, a former student texts me that he’s back from Afghanistan. I let him know I’m in the office in case he wants to stop by.
When he does, he pulls out his journal from the few weeks he spent in class with us. He said he kept practicing his paragraphs using the PREP method through the six months’ of his redeployment and that he still has a few essays he wants to write for me. That would have been enough to start the waterworks leaving it at that, but he went on to say that writing, staying connected with the assignments, memories of his classmates and our times together kept him going.
He read aloud a paragraph he’d been working on when his unit was ambushed yet again. A straight week of getting ambushed every night. That did it. The dam burst, though I was able to pull it back together relatively swiftly. He’d been writing about the first hot meal they’d just had in more than a month and how rations ‘suck’ when they came under fire.
After that, the conversation took several turns and we touched upon everything from being grateful to stand up without the weight of his pack to intervening at a local grocery store where a man was kicking his girlfriend on the ground. He mentioned his mother’s angry relief at his return (she didn’t want him to go again after he returned from his first tour with the tip of a finger missing and a scar from a near-fatal blast to the forehead) and what it was like losing buddies. We brainstormed some strategies for responding to the challenges of returning to civilian life and he acknowledged in no uncertain terms how the prayers of classmates kept him alive. After viewing the class slide show, we parted with his promise to return to campus and visit to encourage one or both of my current ENG 098 classes. I printed him a copy of the list of personal appreciations classmates had written about him at the end of last semester that I hadn’t been able to email him. I am humbled by how good things can get every now and then.