On Children (excerpt)
by Kahlil Gibran
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
The great acapella group, “Sweet Honey in the Rock,” put music to these words that I’ve been humming ever since yesterday’s meeting with a young student. She came to me to talk about her future. As her love for ballet has grown, she started to wonder if she could make a profession out of it. She is talented but somewhat impeded by her late start, around age thirteen. This was intentional on the part of her mother who had been a professional ballet dancer and wanted to avoid, at all costs, her daughter becoming the same.
I felt really sad hearing this. Lord knows, I’ve had my struggles with dancing. Though there are things I would have done differently, in general, I am grateful for my life in dance. I am grateful for the chance to have sculpted an arabesque out of my own flesh. I am grateful for the all the days that I danced so hard that I felt positively cleansed inside and out. I am grateful for all the pain, sorrow and humiliations because they helped me grow.
I can relate to the mother’s desire to protect her daughter from hardship. As a teacher, I never want to see my students get hurt, but I do my best to protect them while moving them forward. Not at the expense of it.
I see this great wide road we are all on. I see what came before as well as my own brief appearance on it. I see that my teachers passed on what they knew to me. How I took it, reinterpreted it and am now passing it on to my students. And so on and so on. I can’t give them all the tools they will need, however, because what they will experience in the future is beyond my grasp. They will have to find their own way. This is the nature of life. To thwart that process is an excercise in futility. You can’t hold the children back. Nor can you compete with them. They’ve already won.
For instance, it’s the students, not the parents, who will probably read this. And I want them to know that I’m waving at them from the far shore.