March 25: As a teacher’s aide today, I accompanied the fifth graders to Physical Education class. The kids lined up facing each other in two large rectangles; but with an odd number, one child had no partner. I’m sure they’re about to toss a ball, right? So I stepped in to fill the gap.
Then the class began: while the kids in the outer rectangle jogged around the gym, the interior kids did squats. Then they switched positions and exercises. And switched again: jogging and planks. And switched again: jogging and push-ups.
Are you kidding me? So there, in my turtleneck sweater, necklace and earrings I jogged, squatted, held my planks, and did push-ups. When the PE teacher blew her whistle, the kids scampered to the next activity: volleyball. I staggered to a chair, huffing and puffing, to cheer them on.
March 26: [Kevin, stopping reading, please.] When I’m out for a walk, I travel light: a phone in one jeans pocket, a credit card in another, a water bottle swinging from my finger, and earbuds in the usual places. This was true last Sunday in Tucson, when I walked from Anne and Nina’s house to a nearby college baseball game. And it was true today back home, when I walked to our farmers’ market.
[Kevin knows that already. Here’s the part I wince to tell him:] Both times after I whipped something else out of my jeans pocket (ear buds; cash), I dropped my credit card — last week in front of the ballpark, today in front of a baker’s stand. Unencumbered by awareness, I cheerfully walked home. Soon, though, encumbered now by my folly, I flew back to the sites of my carelessness, full of self-recrimination — and hope.
Sure enough, the good people at the University of Arizona baseball game and our Little City’s farmers’ market had found and safeguarded my credit card.
I believe in the goodness of people. And I also believe in the effectiveness of slim zipped wallets. I’ve resolved to forgo future credit card folly and to find other ways for people’s goodness to shine.
March 27: A week ago, I basked like a desert tortoise in the southwestern sun. Today, I hunched in my coat, hood and scarf against a fierce March wind. Everything was gray except for the stalwart daffodils. I looked up. Snow flakes? Not possible; it must be a neighborhood cherry tree erupting in blossoms.
I walked past the wafting petals. More white stuff swirled around me: definitely snow. (And Kevin got pelted by hail on his bike ride.) Perhaps the wintery mix was just saying goodbye until next year.
March 28: Even though today is one of my self-established substitute teaching days, I didn’t sign up for a class. And I turned down a chance at 10:40 am to be a last-minute sub.
The world needs help in every quarter, and apart from my prayers and my giving and the occasional act of service or witness, I feel like a speck of sand on the beach: powerless. Here at home, however — by agreeing to substitute for one teacher on one day — I can make a difference.
I felt bad about my choice today. So I texted the assistant principal to see if the school still needed an emergency substitute. He said no; I was relieved. I then signed up for six shifts over the next two weeks.
I believed this morning that I couldn’t do a thing for the people in Ukraine except send prayers, money and support. Then I realized that every kindness I do back home, every piece of trash I prevent from reaching the creek, every hour I help an overworked (and under-appreciated) teacher — each of those acts sends love into the universe. And you — with all the small acts of kindness, creativity, connection, and service you perform — are doing the same thing. Like each flutter of the proverbial butterfly wing, I believe we make a difference in ways we may never know. I hope you believe this too.
March 29: My students are leaving our classroom to attend their Science, Technology, Engineering and Math class. I take inventory: Twenty-two fifth graders? Check. Laptops and headphones? Check. Scissors? Um.
The students had already explained to me — and demonstrated — how they transition from class to class: by walking quietly in a straight, single line. Now they showed me how they carry scissors. Except for one child who flipped his scissors open and shut like a frantically feeding shark, everyone secured the blades and points admirably. What a relief. So off we went . . . into the classroom directly across the hall.
March 30: The night eased into tranquility, taking me with it. I walked home from the Metro at 10 pm, past the quiet playground, the silent houses and the empty roads. Nighttime clouds hid the stars and the leafless trees moved without sound. Maybe I was cocooned in the effects of a flavorful cocktail (the “Groundskeeper Willie”). Maybe I still savored my time with Nate, who met me in town for dinner and conversation. Maybe I pondered the brilliant, beguiling film “Drive My Car,” enriched by Jeremiah’s company and insights. Maybe I remembered the Turkish kofte and dolma at lunch with my friend Aileen. Maybe I admired the fearless efficiency of my sixth graders this morning as they folded like turtles for a tornado drill. Or maybe I was just tired. And happy.
March 31: I use an alias as a substitute teacher. Because I’m teaching at the same schools that nurtured Nate and Jeremiah from kindergarten to 12th grade, I write their last name — not mine — on the whiteboard. It has resonance in our intimate school system, a currency I spend freely.
As it happens, this month is the tenth anniversary of the state basketball tournament when Nate, the team’s co-captain, dove for a rebound in the quarterfinal game and broke his wrist. It’s a good story filled with grit, disappointment, resilience (and a modest Washington Post headline). Nate had to learn how to bless and encourage the player replacing him and how to lead from the sidelines during the semi-final victory and the championship loss.
During last year’s re-do of the high school awards cabinet, that old second place trophy somehow found its way to our living room mantle. I know we should offer to return it. But it would probably to be placed in a closet, superseded by many other achievements. And it makes me think of Nate at the winter sports banquet the night he told his teammates about his injury. I see Nate draping his arm across the shoulders of the junior who’d now start in his place. You’ve got this, he said to the stunned player. You’ve got this, he said to the woeful team.
And the trophy says to me: We’ve got this.
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