Archive for August 2017


Passages: For Aida, And A Thousand Stars

August 22nd, 2017 — 11:02pm


aida


Aida was an outlier in my very first English class, a summer school test-run after years teaching media and instructional technology. Bright, beautiful, articulate, and quietly confident at just thirteen years old, she didn’t really belong in the remedial program, but she had lost most of a year to hearing issues and poor health, and now, recovering from implant surgery, she was mostly just there for the credit, to justify her existence in high school.

So while other students struggled to focus, to read, and to care, Aida wrote volumes, and shared with me the fruits of her blossoming awareness and skill. I gave her my copy of The Poet’s Dictionary, and spoke quietly to her in passing and after class about sestinas and pantoums, rhythm and language as a path to the self. She could talk literature and heartache with a wisdom far beyond the capacity of most adults I know. And that smile was the sweetest ever – grateful, knowing, wry; one that lingers in the memory, even now.

I’ve taught thousands of students in over two decades in education. In a very real way, I’ve loved them all. But once a year or so, if you’re lucky, you get a couple of students that connect on a much deeper level – the kind of kids you happily break the rules for, and drive them to work in the shampoo warehouse on the other side of the city because you just want a chance to chat with another bright, vibrant human being, and to be a part of their climb out of the city, to the stars.

Aida wasn’t the first of these kids, and she wasn’t the only one from her year – being a class advisor tends to bring you closer to the cohort, I think. But she was something special all the same. Hers was a smile that could light up a room, one that never faded, and always seemed authentic. Even in sorrow or stress, she was positive and proud. Her cheerful, unapologetic arrival at prom, solo and shimmering and hours late after her hair took too long to come together, lives as a high point in my year. Watching her walk across the stage three years ago as a graduate made my heart jump.

And today, struggling to define that inimitable something, I know that more than almost any student I have ever had, a shining star among thousands, Aida knew herself joyfully, like a natural-born Buddha, having discovered earlier than most that hers was truly a self worth knowing, and worth waiting for.




I last saw Aida in person purely by accident, a year ago this week; she was working as a cashier at Target to pay for school; we were there to buy school supplies for my classroom, and for the kids. Afterwards, as before, social media provided an opportunity to watch her from a distance, as the precocious, beautiful child I had first encountered continued to grow, into an increasingly articulate and determined career-minded adult, spouse, and very recently, just this summer, a mother, loved by and loving to so many of us.

But in the end, Aida’s health was her undoing. A car crash with her infant son a few weeks ago left her shaken and in pain, and stirred up old injuries. For a while, she was recovering, alive and proud of her struggle, as always. And then, this morning, we awoke to the news that after a seizure, Aida had passed in the night.

There’s a video on Aida’s husband’s Facebook page from just three days ago, a short clip featuring her beautiful son, wailing for mama while her father coos reassuringly behind the camera. Aida was alive when this was filmed, just working – on the last course for her degree, on her health, and on her ever-changing beauty, a rare trifecta among our inner city youth. Forever, that clip, and every other artifact of Aida’s life that lives on in so many of us, will break my heart.

I owe Aida so much, and I think I never told her. She was the right kid, in the right place, at the right time: the one who reminded me, way back when I needed it most, that teaching has both love and friendship in it, even – maybe especially – in the darkest of communities, and the most sullen of crowds. She will forever exemplify the positive attitude, kindness, and grit I wish of every student I teach. I will treasure the memory of that smile forever, even if it were not all I have to remember her by – that, the company of her friends and schoolmates, and the space on the bookshelf where my Poet’s Dictionary used to live.

May there always be those among us us who bring us joy, however brief, and remind us that we are in the right place in the world. May those we serve go from this life as they found us in it: alive and kicking, determined and bright, at peace with the world even as they push themselves for more.

May we love, fiercely, those who bring out our best.

And may there always be Aidas, that we may remember ourselves.



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And Both Shall Row: A Wedding Anniversary Mix

August 18th, 2017 — 11:27pm


jbowl


The kids are away at summer camp. It’s Friday, which matters, now that school is starting up again.

And it’s the 18th of August, which matters most. Because today is our anniversary, and as much as we are going grey, ours is a love that is worth the work.

My wife has named this anniversary as the one where “our marriage is finally old enough to drink”. She also claims we met the first day of college, though I remember another night, when we played that game of Pictionary, and stayed up until the sun rose again for the very first time.

Either way: it’s been a long time. And I would do it again, in a heartbeat.

It’s good to have something to share, and someone to share it with. It’s good to have a partner in crime, happy to be a Mary Magdalene to your Jesus even when she’s a stranger at your party, willing to sit in a hayfield sewing and then resewing a hat for your crazy garden gnome costume.

It’s good to have this, and a thousand moments, really: harmonizing in empty churches; the duck in the bathtub; Disney World in a drizzle; the Christmas Eve where we drove out into the cold and ended up across state lines, eating gingerbread and drinking wine in the last open bar for a hundred miles, just to put a ring on her finger, even though we had picked it out together.

And I am grateful for all of it, and the chance to be grateful every morning when I wake, and find her by my side once again.

For this, and the longing to be together and stay together through these last few years of sickness and health, and the early years of motion and uncertainty. This, and the hard work of marriage-as-verb, the constant reflection and sharing and listening that we have learned to do better, at least, as time goes on, and life lays opportunity at our feet. This, and the polished gold seams, the thousand places where we have been tested and tried together, and healed more beautiful than before, like one of those Japanese bowls.

This, and the home we hold, committed to light, laughter, and the spirit of adventure, or so it says on the ketubah, and oh, on most days, it’s still the perfect trifecta, the top of the roller coaster, the cornerstone of a love deeper than the dark.

Because this I remember: 21 years ago today we made ham sandwiches with the rabbi. Your sister fainted holding the chupah. Your grandmother set fire to the reception table. My friends got high in the parking lot.

And then, when the last guest had wandered into the sunset, we went home together, you and I, to the house we had lived in before, above the swan pond. And the next morning, we drove off into the bright new dawning day, comfortable and joyful in silence and in conversation, ready for every next adventure.

May there be a thousand more.



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