The key I was given bore the word timshel. The word comes from the heart of the Steinbeck novel "East of Eden" that encompasses the symbol and power of choice. It is a Hebrew word which translates as "thou mayest" -- a source of hope and resilience for me.
Approximately five days ago, I landed back on American soil after a two-year venture in the Middle East. Ever since I graduated from college, I had been living in East Jerusalem and serving as a volunteer teacher at The Jerusalem School. My Palestinian students held stories of terror, oppression, strong family ties, faith, and the incomparable power of hope. Their stories have changed and wrecked me for good, ones I will hold forever.
Approximately ten days ago, I said goodbye to five of those Palestinian students in a different way. Their names are Leen, Adan, Jude, Laila and Lana. They called themselves "Squad". Teacher's aren't supposed to have favorites, but these girls were my exception (because there is an exception to every rule). They have been the veins of my daily inspiration of hope. They defy the status quo and refuse to give into mediocrity.
I said goodbye to them by giving them my key. You see, I had been wearing the key for the past six months in front of the classroom, as well as my year's worth of reference to the word "timshel". They knew what it meant and, more importantly, they knew that my necklace was my most valuable possession at the time. The day I told all of my classes that I was leaving (which was news to most of them), I told the Squad to come to my class right after school. I read them a letter and presented them with this key, telling them they had to pass it around and keep a journal that would accompany the current "holder" of the necklace, ensuring that their bond would survive the next chapter of their lives. More importantly, ensuring that they would always have a tangible reminder of the power that they have to choose---timshel.
Those girls have my heart, and now, my key.