Saturday, December 15, 2012

Shine A Little Light

This weekend, Trifecta asked us to compose a 33-word poem or story that would give readers a chuckle or, at least, pause to smile.   However, this weekend, that is a tall order, indeed.

The events in Connecticut have touched us all and have left an immense sense of sadness in their wake.    This tragedy hits close to home for me for two reasons:

(1) I am a father of two girls aged 3 and 6; just about the same ages as those children who were killed.   When my first daughter was born, my life, which was already pretty good, went to an entirely higher plateau.  Being a father is the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me.  I cannot imagine the horror of making that long, panic-stricken journey from home or work, to the school, not knowing whether or not your child was alive or dead. No parent deserves to have their heart broken like that.  Their grief most be unimaginable.

(2) I am, also, a teacher.   For 24 years I have taught in elementary schools in Ontario, Canada.  For the majority of those 24 years, I have taught 2nd or 3rd grade. Those are children aged 6-8.  Those are the ages of many of the deceased in Newtown.
     We practise lockdown drills and fire drills periodically throughout the school year. I can tell from the news reports that the staff and students at this school did, too, because they all did exactly what they were supposed to under these circumstances.  They all went to their quiet spots or safe areas. They all stayed stone silent, even though they must have been terrified.  They all refused to open the doors to their safe areas, even when the police identified themselves.   The teachers had trained the students well and they all exhibited great bravery and quick-thinking under extraordinary circumstances.  I am immensely proud of everyone who survived.  
      It, also, cuts to the quick, to think of the staff who lost their lives protecting their students.  Because all teachers practise lockdown drills, we all ponder what we would do if madness descended on our own classrooms.  I am not at all surprised that staff members stood between the madman's bullets and their students.  I am quite certain that I would instinctively, reflexively do the very same thing for my guys, too. To do anything less for the children under our care is unthinkable.  Those staff members died noble deaths, indeed.
      However, when humanity bares its' darkest potential, it is helpful to look to moments that help us restore our faith. I reflect on the interview I saw with Diane Sawyer and the teacher who locked herself and 15 students in the class bathroom. With shots exploding in the room or hallway next to her classroom, she thought the gunman would find them next and that death was imminent. But, instead of giving in to fear, she told her students how much she loved them and how special they were so that words of love would be the last words they heard instead of words of evil.  To protect our children with a fortress of our love is, perhaps, the greatest thing we can do for our children under our care.

     I am a teacher and I am a father and I have cried far too much already this weekend. I considered not entering Trifextra this weekend but changed my mind.   Writing comedy is hard, at the best of times but, at the worst of times, it is important to remember to laugh and love and embrace the beauty that still exists in the world around us.  Often, when times are their darkest, it is the poets and artists and musicians whose light shines the way toward brighter tomorrows. Therefore, I write.
   
     So, with the longest introduction in the history of Trifecta having concluded, I bring you my entry.
     It is the true story of an exchange that took place between me and a grade 2 student, the week before Christmas break, during my third year of teaching.  I was a bachelor boy in those days, which I bring up just to highlight the intuitive connections that children make between their own lives at home and their life with their teacher at school.  I had given the kids a fun, bonus question at the end of a Christmas-oriented language activity that asked the kids, "If you had a million dollars, what would you buy for Mr. MacInnes for Christmas?"  I wanted their imaginations to run wild and was eager to collect their papers and read their answers.  Most papers contained predictable responses but one, from an angelic little girl, caught me completely off guard.  Our condensed, 33-word, totally true exchange went a little something like this:

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The Best Teacher Gift EVER!!!!

"I'd buy you a g-string."

"A g-string?  Why?" I asked.

"When my Mommy and Daddy wear one, they tickle each other and laugh and are happy. I want you to be happy, too."

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     I have built my world around children; personally and professionally. Most of the time, they are the perfect ambassadors for all that is good about our planet.  God Bless every single one of the staff, students and family members involved in this nightmare. May the light of your lives forever shine.