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The new girl was introduced to me about 15 minutes after class started. Often they enter the classroom wearing a defiant look as their armor. This one crept into the room, jumping at the rustle of a few papers, her gaze constantly darting from one person to another.

I usually meet them for the first time while class is in session. We introduced each other. I got her set up with a binder and stickers to decorate it. Then I had her start on a creative activity to break the ice between us. I wouldn’t learn how she came to our school until later, when I could read her file, but another student summed up what I was thinking succinctly, however inappropriately:

“Girl has seen some shit.”

The sad fact is that all of them, the defiant ones and the terrified ones have seen shit that no one — especially not a child should see.

This last week, stories of people fleeing yet another invasion in Syria seemed to dominate drive-time news. I listened, thinking about how something as random as the geography of ones birth insulates a person’s peace from the chaos of uncivil wars instigated and enabled by rulers treating people like plastic disposable game pieces . I thought of the children growing up in those war zones, of the shit they’re seeing, and of the adults that they will become. Then, as happens most days recently, I thought of the hundreds and even thousands children growing up in the ‘mini’ war zones all around us and of the adults they are becoming.

My kids are effectively refugees from those ‘mini’ war zones, and I know my job is to build their sense of peace so that they can get down to the business of learning, of growing up.

But peace is a funny thing. It’s not just the absence of gunfire or sirens or broken dishes for a few nights or even a few months. It’s the calm that comes with the knowledge that those things won’t interrupt life again.

Some of our kids, with a lot of help and love, find that certainty, that peace. When they do, they grow. They begin to share their gifts. They learn to control and redirect their anger which, however righteous, consumes peace and energy and everything around it like a dying star. 

But peace is fragile.  It needs maintenance. It begins (or can end) with childhood. And it needs TLC everywhere we want it to exist.