“Tell me if I finally did something right”

I originally wrote this in response to an invitation to reflect on spending time with kids. A post on Facebook today reminded me of it, so I decided to post here. Enjoy.

***

Not having kids of my own, nor being a teacher, I don’t spend a lot of time around children. But this past year I had the opportunity to go into schools and lead a couple of poetry workshops to middle school students. The faces and spirits of some are with me still. A few of the boys, tender and vulnerable as they teeter on the threshold of adolescence, continue to teach me.

There were the boys at Carver Middle School who could barely contain their astonishment when I prefaced a poem by telling them that I’d spent 10 days being silent on purpose. Their questions came thick and fast. “Whaaa?? I couldn’t do that for five minutes!!” “Would you get in trouble if you talked?” “Did anyone get kicked out?” “How did you eat?” “Why did you do that???” For a moment I thought we would spend our entire hour together talking about meditation. Their open amazement at encountering something so weird and new was a delight to behold.

And there was the 6th-grade boy at the School Day of Poetry in Fall River. Small for his age, he appeared even smaller next to the 8th grade girls who chattered happily before class about make-up, hair, and “pre-nups.” Feeling my own fear of these brash sophisticates, my heart went out to that small boy at the next table shrinking into invisibility and I wondered if he’d remain silent the entire class.

So I was stunned and thrilled when, at a particularly chaotic, boisterous moment, as all the students were supposed to be writing, he raised his skinny little arm and waved me over. Looking up from under his Patriots ski hat, he thrust his paper at me and asked, “Would you look at this and tell me if I finally did something right?”

In response to the prompt to write about a special place, he’d written a simple, wobbly, hopeful, naive, beautiful poem about a world of justice, freedom, and peace. A world that we would surely have one day if we worked hard enough.

I leaned down, gently patted his back, and said, “You did something really right. This is beautiful.” And he nodded and mumbled his thanks.

When I asked for volunteers to read their work aloud, he was the first one on his feet, sharing his tender vision, putting his small voice out into that rambunctious classroom.

Later, I thanked God for giving that boy the courage to ask me to read his work, for letting me be the one who got to say, “Yes, this is beautiful. Keep going.” What a privilege. I don’t know what kind of sorrows or frustrations made him feel like he usually got things wrong. I just know that he taught me something about courage and perseverance. And that we were both given a few moments of grace.

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