Looking Back at Day 1

I arrive thinking education is the issue at hand.

When we amble past the open double doors, hair is matted to my forehead, slick with sweat from a rapid fire tour into a butterflies-and-unicorns school. Some students sit on a lime green sofa couch which hugs the back wall, and the rest of us shuffle in, seating ourselves on the burnt red tile floor.

Four lanky boys are at the front now, almost uniformly in jeans and smart plaid and collared shirts, yet styled very distinctly. One with a manbun and hipster classes, another with a preppy crew boy cut, another that planted his feet just wider than normal, emphasizing his already stouter stature, etc.  

It is our first full day of Niswarth, and I think back to our complete silence when the projector warmed up and they pulled up the presentation to the first slide, then calling out, “What is your superpower?” Already, I was at loss. Someone raised their hand a couple seconds later while I distracted myself trying to search for an answer; they clarified an assumption that I and perhaps even more students had made: we had imagined “superpower” was a word with connotations of childhood, and therefore a state of dreams and desires and possibilities galore. Some impossible dreams which dissipate as you grow older, belonging to superheroes that we wanted to be.

“No no no, we are talking about a superpower you have! What is a superpower that resides within you?”

What is special about this moment? I reread my journal seven days later and flip past the stunning quotes from female role models, Gandhi, commencement speeches from our readings, new yoga teachers, faculty mentors, and I chose the title slide of a presentation by high school seniors, strangers who welcomed me, neither of us knowing anything of each other. Before this trip, I was hard pressed to reconcile self-love with humility. In retrospect, when from the left edge of the room I peered over the rows of our bent backs over crossed legs, it was a rarer occasion than I realized even then; Andover students, attentive yet silent, no one taking the opportunity to answer, not even the students who were still in my mind, “overeager freshmen”. I don’t know anyone yet. Speechlessness and shock was compounded in that moment by the fact that we had distinctly practiced introductions the day before with Nimo at Manav Sadhna. Everyone had settled pretty quickly into the rhythm of introduction + not your grade (so as not to refer to a hierarchy that no one outside of the bubble cares about) and maybe siblings and where you grew up. But this was a whole new jig (or gig) that I hadn’t quite gotten down pat. I stayed silent for that question, but my cheeks warmed and my eyes blinked fewer times in the anticipation of hearing what they had to say about themselves. The first Riverside student said, “I think my superpower is that I can draw connections between two seemingly disconnected things”. I effing loved that. This was no “fun fact” game wherein I would scramble to remember some quirky yet positive thing like “I went to circus school” or “I can move my ear and sing Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’ backwards”. This tugs my heartstrings now, as I think about not only how I’ve moved forward since then, but also how infectious positivity has always been to me!  The selfless empowerment of others through love that I’ve seen in the past week keeps reiterating the “I CAN” mantra from Riverside. And so, I should think, I can name one of many superpowers each person in Niswarth has, and has infected me with (list to come soon).