Tuesday, April 17, 2007

As Much As We Can Carry

At my school, we've had another security threat and all lockers are to be emptied and locked in 24 hours. Book bags, gym bags and so forth will not be allowed on campus, and so students will be coming to class in two days with only the books they can reasonably carry with them about campus all day. Some students won't come period and those that do won't have much with them. Many may have nothing in hand.

Determined and duly instructed to have "a scheduled day of school," I monitor and adjust--finding links to online texts for homework reading and posting pdf files of handouts and worksheets that students can pull from home. I find myself paradoxically plugging in technology when the personal immediacy may be too much to ask, yet a way to keep things human.

Thus done, I pause for a moment and am reminded of last summer, when I was flying home from Istanbul on the weekend of the British air travel scare. As I was standing in line with all of my bags, planning to carry some valuable and fragile treasures from my stay onto the plane, all passengers to the United States or Britain were informed that we'd be allowed nothing but our passports in hand. I found myself in the queue scrambling my pottery, icons, carpets, books in a hodge-podge of dirty laundry. Madly I wrapped objects d'art in a weeks' worth of underwear. All cameras, books, magazines, koosh pillow--any item that might have comforted me on the 18 hours of travel ahead had to be sent through baggage. Stripped of everything but a passport and boarding pass, I gathered myself onto the plane that would take me to Paris and then onto another bound for New York. After the news reports, the surprise at the check-in, the extra searches, and the wonder at what could happen next, all I could carry was my wits at their end.
I've learned over the years that no matter what happens, the school bells ring and the kids come in, the school bells ring, and kids go on their way. What happens in between in the little time we have together is fleeting, itself likely to be forgotten. Teens always have on their minds myriad, sundry things at any given moment, least of which might be my lesson at hand. Still, I hope in the time we have together in the next couple of days, we learn some things about literature surely, but more than that, I hope we remember lessons of resiliency, resolve, and respect as we cope with the distractions, frustrations, and uncertainty, to say nothing of anything worse. I expect we have a chance to realize that every day it takes courage to get on with each other in school and in the wider world. We just usually don't think about it. Thank goodness we teachers and students are not accustomed to searching, wanding, and sniffing for harm, slantways checking each other for something off.

Nor are we used to looking to each other for calm, assurance, and protection with quite so much necessity. Yet, even on the ordinary days, there we are, trusting each other, restlessly working, negotiating, arguing, mending, and figuring out the past, present, and future together. It's not for the feint at heart even on a good day. In the days of the immediate future it may likely be a full measure tougher. We just might need as much courage as we can carry.

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