I teach preschool. For a few hours a day, I join paths with four year olds whose view of life is much like looking out from within a bubble: the world’s a little wavery and unsure, but it’s bright and moving and streaked with rainbows. My kids find joy and truth in the smallest experiences: digging in the dirt, hitting a balloon, finding letters on street signs and license plates.
At my preschool, there’s a wall where a swath of sunlight streams over the fence near the sidewalk. Light stretches along the top half of the wall, angling down low enough for four year olds to stretch their arms up and cast shadows on the bricks. We call it the shadow wall, and on sunny days you can see a bunch of chubby-fingered shadow arms bobbing and waving as we walk by.
While coming in from the playground the other day, I cheerfully exclaimed, “Wave at your shadows!” I was walking backward, leading but facing the kids, so I didn’t notice the two young adults coming around the corner on their way to a recovery group inside. I almost bumped into them and felt sheepish, caught speaking to my kids in a singsong voice like sunshine was magic, like shadows on the wall were the most interesting things in the world. The women looked kind, wise, and tired, wearing comfortable clothes and carrying coffees. They gave us small, polite smiles as they passed us and headed inside.
I have so much respect for the women who show up each week. I know nothing about their lives, but I know they are fighters, and that every day they come is a day when they’ve chosen to rise and keep going. They walk past my preschoolers and I am aware that there’s a point where the bubble pops, where the voices don’t rise and fall like singing, where life gets dirtier in ways that can’t be brushed off quickly at the end of playground time. These women rise anyway. Wavery. Weary. They raise their arms alongside each other, face their shadows. They stand, searching the shape of their own hands on bricks.