Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sublime to Infernal

The kindergarten class stifled giggles and shuffled their feet as they entered the school office. I could barely see their faces, glowing with excitement, over the desk. Although many had passed through before, this time they were on an official visit. That didn't prevent them from twisting to see the security monitors and artifacts from years past mounted on all four walls, nearly to the 15 foot ceiling. Their teacher called for attention, took a deep breath, and in a jumble their tiny voices followed hers in the first line of We Shall Overcome. Latecomers chimed in a beat behind, accidentally harmonizing with their classmates until the stumbled ahead to the right word. At first earnest, by the second stanza they relaxed and grew louder with confidence. The third stanza was harder. They'd started wiggling and glancing around again, but the adults who had been drawn to the sweet and spontaneous concert were rapturous, the beauty a balm after a frantic morning. I found myself in tears as little black boys and tiny white girls sang shoulder-to-shoulder, a fragment of a dream realized. Our applause was forceful with gratitude, not just for the effort of the children who stood before us, but for the opportunity to cherish that moment.

Hours later that same day, the school completed a monthly fire drill and we moved directly into a lock-down practice. Two of our students were ill and waiting for guardians to collect them. Until then, they were in my care. I shepherded my charges into "safe" spots in the nurse's office and myself huddled under the desk. The school was silent as the principal and assistance principal checked each room, testing to make sure all the students were safely out of sight of any attacker.

I fidgeted, shifting my pretzeled legs awkwardly, picking at my shoelaces, stifling the urge to jabber. The clock ticked mercilessly. I missed my cell phone, sitting on the desk above. Over and over again I thought "I didn't lock the door. I didn't lock the door." and regretted that thoughtlessness that could cost a child's life. The floor outside the door squeaked. I fretted the decision to place one child in a corner, the other behind me. The clock ticked. I mentally reworked our hiding spaces, putting myself in that corner, both children more safely under the desk. Perhaps in a crisis a shooter would focus on me and overlook them. 

The all-clear finally was announced and I awkwardly unwound myself, casually pointing the children back to their cots. I finished up some paperwork, signed the children out when their parents arrived, prepared for the end-of-day rush. Children shouted joyfully at the bell, racing to buses and play dates and after-school activities. I cleaned off my desk and headed home, more aware than ever of the hope our children present, and how very vulnerable they are.

1 comment:

  1. Even your prose is poetry. I was with you, next to you, in your head with you, in each paragraph here. Thank you for the experience.

    And thank you for perfectly capturing the highs and lows of a very real day.