Bits and Pieces


As soon as I left the bedroom this morning, I knew something was wrong. There was an unnatural breeze floating through the apartment and I could hear the wind whistling around our ill-fitting windows. I later learned that there was a wind advisory in effect – 50mph wind gusts. Sure enough, it was a kind of French door behind my desk with a poorly designed latch that has failed several times in the past, once during a polar vortex while we were away. That one cost us all the plants in that room. This time it was just a mess of papers strewn across my desk and on the surrounding floor.

The force of the wind was so strong that even pressing the full weight of my body against the door, I still couldn’t close it enough to be able to engage the latch. I could feel my heart pounding at an unhealthy rate and was grateful that I had just had it checked and found in good working order a few days earlier.

I woke Rosellen to tell her I was going to need her help once she was up and functioning. I decided to give it one more try on my own, and to my surprise the wind must have abated just long enough for me to push the door into place and slide the latch into its notch and end this indoor tornado.

This may be of no interest to you at all, but I found that I couldn’t start my “real” writing until I had cleared my system of this story. I could still feel the stress weighing down my body and psyche. If this absolutely minor trauma could affect me in such a powerful way, what permanent damage could more devastating trauma inflict? I’ve read the literature on this subject, but it took feeling it in my own body to truly understand.

Although the window/door is secure now, the mess it produced around my desk remains. I decided to leave the cleanup for later and use these best hours of the morning to write what I had originally intended. I have some stories about encounters with people this week that may or may not be connected. I won’t know if they are until I start writing. One of my favorite quotes, attributable sometimes to E.M. Forster goes, “I don’t know what I think until I see what I say.”

I got a most unexpected email this past weekend from Crystal (not her real name) who was a student at the school I directed. You know the way AA asks members to make amends to all the people they may have wronged because of their addiction. Crystal’s note was the flip side of that: She was reporting that she was now a second-year student in one of the country’s most prestigious law schools, and she was writing to thank the people who helped her on her journey up this very steep slope.

I’ve been lucky enough to receive a fair number of these thank yous from past students. They are the ultimate reward for a teacher, more valuable than all the paychecks they were shortchanged on. What made this note especially remarkable was that I hadn’t seen Crystal since she left our school at the end of third grade. She began the letter by identifying herself and her parents on the assumption that I would otherwise not have remembered them. I don’t pretend to have supernatural recall of the thousands of students I’ve worked with, but my batting average would keep me in the starting lineup of any major league team. My image of Crystal was as clear as her made-up name and I needed no prompting.

She was a very bright little girl and her parents, unqualified supporters of the school, were beginning to have doubts about whether we had the capacity to help her reach her full potential. I was determined not to lose Crystal, both because she was a real asset to the school and because the thought of not meeting a student’s needs represented the worst imaginable failure for a school.

I proposed to Crystal’s parents that I work individually with her on an enrichment plan in math and reading. I don’t recall the details of our work together, but it involved pulling her out of class several times a week for one-on-one sessions. In the end, the parents decided that was not enough and they transferred her to one of the city’s selective admissions elementary schools for the start of fourth grade. It’s hard to fault them for the decision, given Crystal’s current achievements, though we’ll never know if she would have reached the same heights had she stayed with us.

There’s so much more I could tell you about this wonderful family and the other children under its wings, but it would require violating their rights of privacy, so I’ll leave it at that. However, I did want to add that Crystal’s note bore other unexpected gifts because she demonstrates impressive recall of her own. She remembers the shabby church building the school occupied in its early years, a stark contrast to the newly renovated building we eventually moved to and which still houses the school more than twenty years later. She also recalls participating in a program called FAST (Families and Schools Together), a 12 -week series of dinners and special activities for families of children in the earliest grades, designed to build community among those families and keep them attached to the school through the long years until their child’s graduation. The fact that she remembers the program so vividly is a testimony to its success.

I’ll be briefer with the second story. I don’t think there’s any need for pseudonyms here. Our friend Bruce left the hospital last week after major surgery to excise a cancerous growth that had involved a long list of his inner organs. He was determined to approach the whole experience like a Jedi warrior, and he more than lived up to that aspiration. Bruce is a man of great faith, which surely was a factor in his survival and ongoing recovery. I wish I could emulate that faith, but I’m somehow missing a critical gene that would make that possible.

Yesterday, Rosellen and I visited him at the home of a friend who has been central to seeing him through the illness and the recovery. There he was, stretched out on the couch like a lady of leisure. His insides may be hollowed out, and he will forever have to accommodate some very uncomfortable “baggage,” but he is the same engaged and amusing man who has drawn so many people to him. We felt buoyed by the visit.

I guess that’s the link between the stories. They’re both uplifting at a time when we desperately need more of same. They’re another reminder of how much there is in our world to be grateful for.

 Now I can finally tackle cleaning up the mess that the winds brought this morning. I guess I should be grateful for the fact that it wasn’t raining.

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Marv Hoffman
By Marv Hoffman

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