Today, I learned a harsh lesson.
I had to travel off-site for work, to observe a classroom of students. I am an editor for a company who not only publishes educational material for at-risk learners, but also teaches the programs they need to get back on their feet, obtain their GED certificate or high school diploma, and become a successful employee.
The class was at the National Guard center, and I knew a lot of the people in the course would be pursuing a career in the military. I imagined there would be a couple of females.
I didn't imagine one would be pregnant. Or that the only empty seat in the room would be sitting next to her.
Today, I judged.
I don't remember her name. Because I was too busy judging her and eying her bulging belly as she politely shook my hand. She was no older than 18. "Too young to be having unprotected, careless sex," I thought. I rolled my eyes as she gently pulled up her shirt and rubbed her belly, and asked the instructor if she could use the restroom.
Today, for once, I felt compassion instead of anger and hate.
She is the oldest of 12 children, the program director told me. She doesn't have to be in this course. It isn't a requirement of a school or correctional facility. She applied to be there. She doesn't have her own transportation. So she wakes up early every morning to take the bus. The bus drops her off nearly a mile away, and she walks--to and from the bus stop, rain or shine--to be at class early. While the other students broke for lunch, she took a sip of her water and put her head down on the desk to nap. She didn't have lunch. Her mother is on food stamps, yet her oldest daughter, carrying a child, is not important enough for her to feed. When it was her turn to tell the class what her career goals were, she said they were to obtain her GED certification and enroll in school to go into the medical field. The instructor told her that maybe becoming a nail technician was more realistic. She quietly nodded and stared at her paper.
I wanted to scream, "You can be whatever you want to be!" I wanted her to know that her mistakes shouldn't have to define her. I wanted her to know that she was already on the right path. I wanted to let her know that she could stop the cycle. I wanted to let her know that she should never give up hope. That the moment you give up hope, that's when your dreams never come true.
Today, for a moment, I forgot my own struggle and cried for hers.