He waited until all other students had left the room. I knew from the look on his face that he wanted to talk.

He is one of my veterans, of whom I was thinking before the course began: how am I going to retain them? They all have a tenuous hold on civilian life, a set of problems I cannot fully imagine.

I don't now remember what I said to open the conversation, but he was ready. He had told me before that he was dyslexic, struggling to read and write anything and everything. He has trouble keeping up, but he's doing it. His first essay was an A+. submitted after he'd apparently received lots of help with it. He received his second, a B-, on his birthday, something of a blow (though I had no way of knowing my timing). I then realized, as he fidgeted with his hands in his pockets, struggling to maintain the conversation, that he needed encouragement. He said he felt like a failure and that he would never be able to "do" English because of his dyslexia.

I reminded him that he could revise this B-. I said, "You are a good writer. Don't give up." And that was part of what he needed to hear.

Then I talked a little about being a painter; that my first painting was terrible, and that I had resolved at its completion never to paint again. But my painting teacher encouraged me, stating that I would get better if I kept at it, like that was the most true thing that could be uttered. And I somehow didn't give up; I kept drawing and painting, and when I couldn't take lessons anymore, I began painting on my own, and it turned out she was right. I did get better. I was glacially slow, as I didn't give it the time or energy it deserved, but I didn't quit. And the more willing I have been over the years to paint, the better I have become. And so it is with writing. And so it is with loving people, and showing up when you think you have nothing to give.

I told him failure, I've learned, is an invitation to try something else, not the ending our culture preaches. We don't change if we are successful. We only try new things when we "fail," which isn't final if we don't stop trying.

We talked about his schedule: that he works Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and on Tuesday and Thursday he takes classes at the Northridge and Cypress Creek campuses, that his kids are in daycare in Jarrell, and that he lives in Georgetown. That's a lot of driving, I said. The library in Georgetown is wonderful, I said, with a cool play space for kids. He said he doesn't actually see much of his nine year old daughter, who is often off seeing friends, and that his younger daughter is manipulative, but sweet just the same. He agreed that the library might prove a good place to study with them.

When we finished talking, he said he felt better. I said he should send me the paragraphs he gets stuck on for the third essay, that I'll give him early feedback.

He said thanks, see you Thursday, and left.

There are times when I don't feel like I have much to offer, in my writing or teaching or in my friendships or relationships with my boys or family. I feel superficial and awkward broaching a subject, and even unqualified to talk about anything at times. I feel that because I struggle with these feelings, I have nothing to give. But that isn't true.

In any situation, I can decide to fully show up for another person. I can listen and intuit what they are thinking or feeling. I can stand in their shoes and be reminded that they feel self-conscious because they haven't ever been to college and are in their late thirties, or that they feel they are stepping down out of a rank they once held that offered prestige and respect. They are worried about being good parents, good students, good people. They struggle to pay bills and make ends meet, to speak in a modulated tone when they feel like screaming because their marriages are difficult. They cannot discuss their loneliness because there aren't words. There are so many people I can serve because I have struggled with loneliness, with failure, with financial stress, with difficult married relationships, with raising children who become decent, contributing members of the population. I can serve because I can relate. Each day, it is up to me to decide whether or not to do what I can.