Michael carries a big box of Puffs tissues. Baby blue. Once, I called them napkins, and he corrected me in his way: laughing, eyes looking up, giggling through his response, singing, “They’re tiiishhoooos!!”

He has written his name on the big, blue box in black permanent marker. If you were to look at the handwriting from far away, it might look like the imprint of a big, black chicken’s foot. He lets my class use the tissues as we want. Every time we need to clean the board: “Michael, can we use your tissues please?” “Yesh,” he sings quietly. “Michael, can we use your tissues to clear off this desk please? “Yesh.” “Michael, somebody crushed grapes on the ground. Can we use your tissues please?” Michael, help me, I say. Help me because one of your classmates wants to leave the room and will cause a major disruption if she does, but if you just let me have a tissue, just one simple piece of tissue Michael, then maybe she will sit back down in her seat and we can continue class and maybe we can actually learn something here about media and analysis, Michael. Maybe move forward toward some larger learning target, Michael. Your tissues are our only ground, Michael. Your tissues, our tissues, we all need more tissues, Michael. Maybe I should bring tissues, too.

But what good can tissues do?

A tissue. That seems to be all that separates a good moment from a chaotic moment, a moment of learning from a moment of disarray, of apathy, of anomie, of disorder, of unease. A tissue. Sometimes, standing in the aisles in between their desks, I pray that God will allow an unexpected moment of quiet to last just one full minute because I don’t know how to keep it on my own, because there seems to be nothing in between quiet and order but a simple simple swaying tissue and I am not sure that I can push away all that is coming with a simple simple swaying tissue, a tissue in the hot air, a tissue that moves through air too heavy to support the simple swaying thing. A simple swaying thing.

Women in the Middle East are wearing veils. Tissues too. Simple swaying things. A simple swaying thing to hold away the heaving heat of bodies. Heaving meaningful bodies, heaving meaning making bodies, heaving mean-bodied bodies. And the tissues quickly slip back, reveal a piece of hair here, a painted fingernail there, and every piece of fabric seems tenuously stitched. So, mullahs stand in the alleyways of their cities, stand in between buildings that threaten to collapse onto their sides, and they pray too that God’s great might will be the protective tissue against the heaving heat of buildings, the heaving heat of bodies, the heaving heat of a skyline falling, ready to dismantle all that was slowly gathered and meticulously placed.

I can’t love them all and I can’t love them enough. I can’t love them better and I can’t love them enough. I can never love them enough. And I don’t know if I am supposed to be loving them at all. I only know that I want learning to happen. Learning learning learning always learning. I also want to walk away from a day feeling good, feeling accomplished, feeling like we got somewhere with our work, with our discussions, with our development as people. Though is the work of loving one another enough work in the classroom? Is the work of listening to each other enough work? Currently, I feel as though every step we took forward today was accompanied by three hundred steps back, and all because I made eye contact and smiled during the end-of-day movie, all because I let them play games where they‘d mouth “Can I go to the bathroom” and I would mouth “No,” rather than giving them a mean look. Instead, they forgot that I am a teacher and started to see me as their cool friend, all because of a simple swaying thing.

Michael left his tissues in the classroom again today. He does it many days and I never know if he means to or if he is leaving them so I can practice the resistance, to practice holding the tissue against the weights that are poring in from both sides in our room. I want to make him feel better about himself because people in the class are always mocking him. And I do not know how to fix it. I want to make one of the young girls feel better about herself because people pick on her just as much. And I do not know how to fix it. Today, I said to one boy, “I am TIRED of you telling Michael to shut up! I don’t hear you talking to other people that way. What’s he done to you? Does it make you feel like a man you can tell him to shut up? It makes you feel cool?” Because that’s all they want, is to find someone smaller, someone weaker, someone to help them remember that they are kings rather than what they might be feeling: as though they are confused little bodies trying to find a way through the alleys and aisles of their lives, searching for their own tissues, clutching at pieces of fog thinking perhaps they’ve found a sheet…

And yet still, I do not know how to fix it. And I want to fix it. I want to fix it. I want them to critically think. I want them to become better citizens. I want them to learn to work with each other with civility. I want them to speak respectfully, to know their manners, to be quiet while others are speaking, to learn how to listen, to know why grocery stories line up brand name groceries on the top shelf, to know the difference between reality TV and reality, to understand that there is no reason to bully or to be mean to one another, that if they gave it the time, they’d actually like each other. But perhaps this is way too much to ask. And perhaps I am essentially asking for them to become like me, forgetting to shape in them the best that they can be, not the best that I want them to be.

Even so, whatever insight I have, whatever strategy I try on, whatever I think will help, whatever I try to do differently, whatever activity I plan, whatever whatever whatever I decide, whatever I implement, the success of any of it is still contingent on that simple swaying thing that never seems to come to me naturally but that I have to pray for as I walk up the stairs every day before class, pray to keep: “dear God, please keep the peace today. Help us get through a lesson. Please help me to be the absolute best teacher I can be for these kids. Please help me to be my best and for us to learn as much as we can and learn all that we need and please help make it better God, because I cannot do it alone.” Not even with Michael’s box of simple, swaying things.