Ancestor Pies

A few weeks ago, Chrissy Danko and I met for lunch. Every time I’ve thought about it since then I’ve started grinning. She is the oldest of four siblings, and I taught them all, sad to say goodbye to the last of them and to their parents. (‟Wouldn’t you like to have more?” I asked Joe and Joan, impertinent as ever.) It was a huge treat to sit and talk with Chrissy, and hear about them all, and hear about who she’s becoming as an adult.

When she came to me, Chrissy was so shy she barely spoke in front of the class. My fierce protection of turn-taking, especially for the turns of the quiet, didn’t work for everyone, but it helped Chrissy. She opened up; she began to appreciate herself more. Now she is writing her dissertation, for a PhD in philosophy, about Hume and Kierkegaard–and about what it means to be an individual, to have a self.

Here’s a photograph of Chrissy, when she was in my class:

Chrissy projects timeChrissy with two heads

Here’s another, at Halloween. I have no idea who’s the alien, and who’s the pumpkinhead, and would love to know. (At a place that really values creativity, Halloween can be pretty amazing.)

I don’t know how it is in your life, oh patient reader, but in mine, right now, there are many mysteries, treasures that lie somewhere unknown in still-pretty-tall stacks of boxes. Some absences I can live with cheerfully for a while more, but some feel like serious deprivations. For example, although I saw it some time in the last year, I can’t find Chrissy’s ancestor pie. Hers was one of the most unique of the circle graphs of background and heritage that I assigned in the early years of the immigration theme.

Here’s Aaron Goodman’s ancestor pie, made that same year, also quite wonderful:

immigration ancestor pie Aaron

Pretty soon in the evolution of the immigration theme, I stopped assigning ancestor pies, realizing that they could be problematic for some kids. While it was an assignment, thoughand later, when it was a choicewe considered fractions as small as sixteenths, one sixteenth for each of a child’s sixteen great-great-grandparents. Two parents; four grandparents; eight great-grandparents; sixteen great-great-grandparents.

(When I heard that a cousin in my father’s Maine hometown had said that his great-grandmother had been two-thirds Indian, I knew that couldn’t be quite the case. Ancestry denominators come in powers of two.)

Aaron didn’t need sixteenths; fourths did it for him. Ben Redden needed eighths, and managed to line up the eighths from two different grandparents, to show that he added up to a fourth English.immigration ancestor pie Ben

For Chrissy’s ancestor pie, unique and memorable, she made one big pink circle, on which she wrote, ‟I’m all Polish.”

On one of those trips back from Ellis Island described in the previous post, Chrissy’s dad’s stories intrigued me. More accurately, I was struck by his lack of stories. ‟They won’t talk about it,” he said. ‟None of them will, or ever would.” The memories of life in Poland too dark? Or still too much sense of rupture from that other life? Maybe both—since those feelings seem able to coexist, in all of us.

Another parent had spent years coming to understand that her mother’s grimness could be traced to her own mother’s very difficult immigration experience. She’d been left behind as a baby, then finally came over to join her family, and was ridiculed for being slow to catch on to America; her bitterness affected her daughter. ‟I’m where it stops,” my student’s mother said. ‟I’m not going to keep living out that hurt, and I won’t pass it on to my daughter.” (I may not have the family history details quite right, but I will never forget the mother’s resolve.)

Even the stories we would definitely call successes seemed often to have a shadow.

Beyond those individual stories, looking at the community story, I began to see the melting pot project as very much unfinished, at least in our area. A friend of mine in Marlborough went to have her children baptized. ‟Wrong church,” they told her. ‟You’re Irish. This is the Italian church.” Several Worcester parents in my class described lingering enmity between Irish Catholic and French-Canadian Catholic colleges.

These and other stories convinced me that we can all be tribal, insular, distrustful. We seem to be nowhere near being able to handle racial differences; we can’t even handle ethnic ones.

(All of these, of course, being cultural constructs, not biological. Inside that designation of Polish there could be many variations, given Poland’s history. And we are all Africans, in very recent time. But that’s for another post, somewhere down the road.)

The ancestor pies told yet another story. Sarah Tonry’s, one of those mysteries hidden in the boxes, had nine colors, as I remember, for nine different flavors of European heritage. Most of the kids in our central Massachusetts population colored in at least three or four different cultural origins, and when we located all our collective countries of origin on maps, the class list ran to nearly twenty, easily.

Willy nilly, we were the melting pot, and the ancestor pies showed us that.

I myself have to go to fractions smaller than sixteenths to show anything other than one big circle. Growing up, surrounded by people with ‟interesting fractions,” I felt the lack severely. At some point, our mother helped my sister and me calculate that we were 1/2048th French. An exhilarating notion. We spent a whole crossing of Long Island Sound gloating.

Family legend in my father’s family said that we were 1/16th Native American, and recent research by family genealogists indicates that my generation probably really is 1/32nd Abenaki. I’ve learned since that brutal treatment of Native American Indians in southern New England led survivors to flee north. So Judith, my great-great-grandmother, could have been any combination of tribes, along with whatever portion she had of what we call white.

I’ve thought about Judith a lot, remembering this again and again: inside our historical selves, the selves we bear through the changes and patterns and stories of history, there are wars. There are hurts unassuaged, that convey hurt forward without ever being named. For all of us, one way or another, things got thrown overboard; loved people were left behind.

Publicly, we may celebrate our emigree identities, whatever they may be, and the melting pot project, the meetings of differences. Privately we still seem to carry a lot of grief, more than we usually let ourselves know.

That’s one of the things the community of a class can do together: we can honor each others’ historical selves, whatever we know and share of them. Honor them with knowledge and wide understanding of the historical context; celebrate them with respect and joy. We can be gentle with the unnamed mysteries inside the tall stacks of unsorted boxes that are each of our identities.

One year, Kate Keller (wearing her aide hat) suggested that all of us take our just-finished immigrant mini-posters outside. (Each mini-poster gave the basic information about one immigrant, relative or friend, for each member of the class; Kate and I each made one, too.) Outside, we all stood together on the wide steps below the classroom windows, holding our posters and making a human timeline, century by century. A fairly boisterous crew, we stood there quietly for a minute or so, honoring all those reasons to have left and reasons to have arrived, all those ways of persisting afterwards. We called all those people, a few still living, most gone, to be present. Neither of the adults had dry eyes.

Living with each other, hearing each other’s stories, we might have looked pretty homogeneous to an outsider, but we were honoring difference, discovering commonality, keeping an old project alive. Nothing else we did mattered more.

Just for Five

If you’re stumped and blank as a new field of snow, at least try writing, without removing your pencil from the paper or your hands from the keyboard, for five minutes. Just five.

The previous post focused on brainstorming a topic list, but said almost nothing about actually choosing. Although decisions often challenge me, even I can just ‟go with my gut,” as my daughter says, if I’ve brainstormed first. Students seemed to share that.

taking care of ducks recropHere’s part of the writing that came from one of the brainstorms shown in the previous post, about taking care of baby ducks.

(Once in a while, a student would ask, ‟What if I can find a way to put all of my brainstormed ideas together?” This made me think of my friend John Hodgen, a poet who sometimes seems to have done exactly that: to have noticed and listened to and named the different crickets chirping in the dark corners of his mind, and taught them to sing their brightness-against-the-dark songs together. How could I be doctrinaire about any of these instructions, given such models of make-it-your-own?)

One way or another, all of us sitting in the classroom together, almost always, could choose—just like that—and start writing—partly because this exercise only committed us to writing for five minutes.

I sat at the front of the room, at the little old wooden student desk I had rescued from the basement. (My big desk was back in the corner.) For other writing activities I moved around the room, conferencing, but for the fluency exercises I sat with half an eye on the clock and my heart in my throat, inspired by all that energy around me–and I wrote like mad, myself, for most of the five minutes.

As a young adult I attended Quaker Meeting, sitting every week in silent meetings of collective reflection and searching. In addition to meeting for worship, Quakers have specialized meetings, always beginning with silence, for specialized purposes—‟meeting for business,” for example. This intense short writing in my classroom was a silent meeting for writing, and we were all in it together, reinforcing each other.

Unlike ordinary open writing time, we weren’t asking each other questions, or getting up to consult dictionaries or spell-checkers, or losing time over punctuation, if that got in the way. We were just writing, writing, writing. The brevity—five minutes, no more, at the beginning—helped to create an intensity, a suspension of self-conscious critiquing, a focus on the act of inventing and constructing with words—and that led to some amazing beginnings.

test taking amanda croppedSome students at this age (in this case 12) are able to use conventional spelling and paragraph breaks, even in a quick first draft. 

What about paper vs. screen? I wrote in front of my students on paper, by hand, but I do this exercise at home on the computer. On the other hand, I don’t carry my laptop in my backpack when I’m out walking or bicycling, so plenty of writing, including brainstorming, happens in a paper journal. For me, different kinds of writing have emerged in the two different situations. It makes sense to me for students to be comfortable with both, if they can, and to have that additional option of switching, like having another gear on a bicycle.

With more and more computers in the classroom, I could encourage students who had already developed some typing fluency, or for whom writing by hand involved special difficulties, to use typing in this situation. Increasingly, over the past decade, students with writing challenges, throughout the older grades of my school, have been allowed to bring and use their own laptop computers. While some kids found their sheets of paper and pencils, others set up their laptops, or got settled at one of the classroom computers. It worked fine.

As the days and weeks went by, even the most challenged kids would figure it out: you can write about almost anything if you’re only committed to writing for five minutes, and if you focus on the meaning of what you’re exploring, not the mechanics.

I loved that point somewhere in the second week when kids would start looking at me warily, or actually wave their hands, in a universal gesture meaning, ‟No! Don’t you dare call time!” If everyone else seemed okay, I’d just go for it and give us a few minutes more. This could lead to sudden exhilarating jumps in word count. At the rational age of 11 or 12, kids knew they couldn’t make a direct comparison between quick writes of different durations—but they felt the power of their own stamina, and that’s what I wanted them to be able to feel.

about war2 croppedWhen I did call time, students counted words, including any words crossed out. (Those crossed out words got written first, so they represented part of the writer’s output.) Nobody was allowed to marvel publicly about how many or how few words they’d written. They were meant to compare not with each other, but with themselves, day by day, page by page in their notebooks.

I think of a child who wrote just nine words the first day, and was proud to do that, but even prouder to get to 43 after a few repetitions of the exercise format, over the next week. I think, also, of other children whose word count actually started high and went down, as they worked to figure out how to think and write at the same time. That, too, was a good thing.

So: if you need to write and you’re stuck, just write for five minutes. If you want to cast a line into the file cabinets of your mind, and see what comes up, you can make a surprisingly good start in five minutes. If you think you know nothing about a topic, five minutes is long enough to prove yourself wrong—to prove yourself ready to begin.

drawing cartoons croppedFinally, although there’s a special power to this exercise when a whole group does it together, you can do it by yourself, and kids sometimes did, in open writing time. I could see them glancing at the clock—or forgetting to glance at the clock, which is even better.

All in all, another slogan to live by.

On days when we did this exercise, kids typically had a choice for how they used the rest of that day’s writing time. A child could keep going with that piece she had just started within the exercise, and many students chose that. A child could also work on something else entirely, a story in progress, a letter to an editor, a menu, a poem–maybe a poem in the form of a menu? Some kids spontaneously began revising what they’d written in the exercise; many waited until we were all working on revision together, when I did mini-lessons to help support that.

Of course, the writing curriculum as a whole was much more complicated than this one brainstorm-and-free-write exercise. I want to write, in other posts somewhere down the road, about kids sharing their writing, and about revision, and about some specific genres of writing.

This exercise, though, was the fundamental practice, the opening of the heart, the first opening of that packet of seeds each of us carries, ready to germinate. We followed the exercise again whenever we needed to warm up, or to have a new beginning: after vacations, after the long individual research reports were finished in the spring, or after a week of very little writing time due to field trips or community events.

Writing this, I am moved all over again by the remembered hush of a class full of kids whose pens and pencils and keyboards are making the only sound; whose hearts and minds are brave, or surprised, or faithful, patient, excited—one version or another of busy. They could risk that little storm of intense composition; their hands and minds could work together that long; they could be that generous to themselves.

In Praise of Colleagues

When I reread my last post, it hit me like a ton of bricks: I had left out something important. It’s easy to overlook something so pervasive that you come to take it for granted. My mother goes to a new doctor, and forgets to mention the mobility and visual impairments that define so much of her present life (along with her continuing eagerness and whimsy.) I write about resources for understanding student writers, and don’t actually mention the sturdiest resource of all–my peers.

After school, teachers gather in each others’ rooms and talk shop. Not every day—there are a few other things to get done: meetings and parent conferences to attend, notes to write on the whiteboards, math manipulatives to locate, photocopies to make, plain old ordinary messes to clean. Still, at the end of the afternoon, for many grateful years I could go stand in Susan Doty’s doorway. ‟Help!” I could yelp. ‟What’s going on with this kid? Why is he so afraid of writing?” I knew she would stop and think carefully about her answer, giving me the same kindness she gave children.

farmer in Crete croppedWhen Marian Hazard taught her own class, before she became the school’s garden wizard, she would wander down to my room and share insights provoked by the most recent book she was reading, about how to help children move forward as thinkers and writers. She often had more patience than me, for reading about education, and, later, for the work of cultivating both plants and gardeners. I gained, always, from sharing what she discovered.

For a while, Kate Keller taught in a room very near my room. When she was trying to describe a breakthrough in the writing of one of her students, she could easily invite me across the hall and produce evidence. ‟Look!” she would say, pulling a file from a pile of folders. ‟Can you believe this?”

four potsOur endeavor, in teaching writing, and in all things: to meet kids where they were, to travel with them as far as they could travel, to help them recognize and celebrate triumphs, and then move forward again—all that was collaborative, in a way not necessarily visible to students or parents.

A thriving faculty conversation is a living thing, like yeast in good bread dough. Over the years I came to see how hard it must be, how delicate, for a principal or head of school to trust and support and strengthen that conversation–and how essential.

three gourdsI also learned that I had to nourish myself, because any individual teacher has to punt, again and again. On the September day when I guided a new class through their first writing fluency exercise, and one child sat in her place at one of the tables and wept for the entire five minutes, and beyond, while everyone else counted the words they’d just written—on that day, like most teachers most of the time, I was the only adult in the room. The student had only recently entered my school; nobody knew her well. So she and I shared something: both of us were stumped. I wasn’t just stumped; I felt awful.

I didn’t scold, since I knew that she was doing the best she could. We talked briefly in the privacy of the hallway. I told her that I wasn’t worried. (I lied.) I told her what was true: that I would ask her to do the same thing again the next day—to brainstorm ideas, to choose one, to write for that little chunk of time that I knew could feel like forever. She would have another chance to try.

redblue turtleI also told her that she could do what I’d done in college: write about why she couldn’t write. If she had to—and she wouldn’t be the first to resort to this at least once—she could write one word again and again, until the second word came to her, and the third.

The next day she did brainstorm and choose; she did write. Not a lot, but some, and that was all the exercise asked for. She went on, that year, to write some pieces that took my breath away. ‟Look!” I said, to whatever colleague I shanghaied that afternoon. ‟Can you believe this?”

I’m telling this story, before I really describe that exercise (next time, probably), because I don’t think there’s any guaranteed approach, exercise, bypass strategy, or technological support for writing difficulties–and because, in my experience, the best source of wisdom, the best source of quality control, came from my fellow teachers. Also the best source of energy to keep going.

Knowing the results of testing or external observation can help, but parents and teachers both can easily make too much of such things. We need to know, by asking the child and by intuiting with all our senses, what challenges a child faces; we also need to offer the bypass strategies that can help. Ultimately, though, we have to do the same basic thing again and again: ask a child to keep trying, and give her credit for everything it takes to try.

I loved my school and my colleagues because our support for each other, so consistently, was support for our highest mission. We supported each other not by blaming the child—even though that’s sadly common in situations in which teachers are hard-pressed (and teachers tend to be hard-pressed.)

pinecone with mushrooms croppedWhen Julie Olsen, having seen me in the hall with a student, asked what was going on, she wasn’t looking for a chance to commiserate about those awful kids we were stuck with. If she knew the child, she always helped me see the world of the classroom from that child’s point of view. If she didn’t know the child, she asked questions that would help organize whatever I’d been able to observe. She laughed her wonderful raucous laugh with a particular twist that acknowledged the profound challenge of teaching—but it was never a laugh at a kid’s expense.

The colleagues I’ve named taught near me, literally or in the sequence of the school’s groupings, for many years. Others, not named here, taught older or younger children in other corners of the school, and helped me understand where my students were coming from, and where they were headed.

We supported each other by honoring each others’ efforts to know each child; by holding firm, together, on the issue of class size, so that knowing the individual child was possible; and by understanding, always, for each other, that all our hearts were doing hard work.

Last but never least, in moments grabbed from the ongoing intensity of our lives, we cheered each other on by sharing our euphoria about progress. I could not have asked for more.

wire sculptures narrowerThe sketches are in thanks and praise for another teacher, Marjorie Weed, who came to volunteer at Touchstone after a long career as a public high school art teacher. She helped me encourage my students as creators and composers, by working with them herself, while I watched and learned along. Mrs. Weed inspired me to give kids time for sketching during our settling time, almost every morning. I was her “oldest and most improved student,” one of many who still value her influence.

Mapping the community

One of my grandfathers died when I was not quite two years old. Photographs show me sober-faced and blonde on his lap—but I can’t consciously remember him. As I was growing up, though, I treasured stories about him, souvenirs, evidence of any kind.

I remember a wall covered with maps which my grandfather had joined together, to show a wide area of many towns centered around the Maine farm he and my grandmother bought in the late 30s, when the world seemed to be falling apart. To make this map collage, he had used USGS topographic maps, first bought (pre-farm) for fishing trips, for knowing the ways of brooks and ponds. Tiled together, the maps gave both a huge view, and detailed views–the paths of the largest rivers, and the wiggles of the tiniest brooks, all on the same wall.

Fast forward many years, during which I grew up in a house with more maps on the walls than pictures, and then married a man whose idea of unpacking, after a move across several states, was to open a box labeled MAPS in the middle of the night, and put up a good selection. The Pisgah National Forest on the bathroom door; a map of the known universe on the wall of the dining alcove. Etc. (Some other wife might have been less pleased.)

milford quad smallerFast forward again through several other kinds of work, and find me, eventually, teaching classes of kids from towns all over central Massachusetts and the northern corners of Connecticut and Rhode Island. I wanted to help them know where they were all coming from, and use that as a start for thinking about the worlds we didn’t share and the worlds we did.

It was my husband who said, ‟You could get a whole lot of USGS topo maps.” And it was my memory of my grandfather that said: in a classroom, there are really large walls.

For years, then, a new school year officially began for me when we put the maps back up.

map array smallerI arranged the array of maps, still folded, on a table, and then handed them one by one up to my husband where he stood, somewhat precariously, on a counter below the largest bulletin board space. I folded back the margins to the edge of the map itself; he worked to make the edges of the maps match up as well as possible, so that roads, in red, or brooks, in blue, or town lines, in black, wouldn’t stagger from one map to the next. We marveled again—him from two inches away, perched high; me from the middle of the room—at how much of our relatively urban state was still woods (in green) or swamp (stippled with those funny little swamp symbols.)

Enter students. I usually began, the first week of school, by encouraging kids to compare the map array with the satellite photographs hung nearby. Those big purplish splotches on the maps matched up with cities easily visible from space. The major highways, 9 and 90 and 495 and 290, showed as arteries on the satellite photos also.

But then we zeroed in. If their houses or apartments or condos weren’t too new, and if they didn’t live in downtown Worcester, kids could find on this public document a piece of their private lives: their homes, in the form of tiny black squares. We marked each student’s place with a flag pin specially augmented with page markers, to hold their names.

Here’s most of one year’s map flags:

map array with pins

The kids who lived at the top of the array, up near the ceiling, had to call instructions to a grown-up climber, but the kids down in the nether regions of the Blackstone Valley could stand on a low stool and place their own map flag, sometimes finding the pinprick left by an older brother or sister in a previous year.

Students who lived in city neighborhoods or new houses—or, oftener and oftener, as the years went by, on brand new streets—had to look carefully at nearby streets and intersections, tiny ponds back in the woods, the shapes of hills given away by topographic lines, in order to see and mark where their houses would be. Sometimes it helped to replay the trip home from school: and here we turn left, and that’s where the old drive-in theater is.

Kids whose parents lived in different houses generally chose to mark both. Parents came in during morning sketching, to clarify confusing locations. Other grown-ups wandered by, and pointed out their own landmarks.

As we traced routes between each others’ houses; as we figured out who lived furthest from school, and who closest; as we crossed bridges and followed off-ramps—all of us developed increasing fluency going back and forth between our knowledge of the three dimensional world, and the abstraction of a two dimensional map.

Like a story, a map shows relationships that we didn’t realize before; it also leaves out things we know better than it does. We need the map and the map needs us.

Next post, I think, we use maps to chase rivers. My grandfather would have approved. Andrew working with Topo cropped

Losing and Keeping Dana

On a mid-November night in 1992, I received a phone call from Dick Zajchowski, the Head of my school. One of my students, Dana, ten years old, had been hit by a van while crossing a busy road through that wet and foggy night. She was badly hurt; she had been taken by helicopter to the teaching hospital nearby; nobody knew whether she could recover.

Dana lasted about ten days, in a coma from which she never emerged, although there were times when she seemed to lift, and our hopes lifted. When I visited and sat with her, reading aloud to her some of the book we were sharing in class, I watched the traces on the machines attached to her body. The electronic lines jumped up and down whenever she heard my voice. Was that good? Was that bad?

I had taught Dana for only a few months, but I had known her in the school community since she was very small. Her older sister, Megan, was also in my class.  Dana, so vivid, so full of life, full of opinions, full of energy—how could she not survive?

treasures for DanaWhen I cleaned out my desk this spring, I found the small box made of popsicle sticks, full of tiny things kids wanted me to take to Dana in the hospital when—we held on, so hard, to the idea of ‟when”—she woke up: braided wristbands, a tiny troll with long magenta hair, small folded notes.

IMG_20130815_100624 - Copy-001But the injury to her brain was too severe. Here’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done as a teacher: calling the families of my students, family by family, to tell them that all of us working and wishing, all of us folding small paper origami cranes, hoping to save Dana–all of us had to let all that go. She had gone from us.

Dana and Megan’s parents knew immediately that they would need to find counseling to help Megan. Some of her healing happened out of our sight, though with all of our thoughts and prayers.

Meanwhile, a wonderful grief counselor visited the school to help the faculty help the other kids. Wisely, Dick Zajchowski arranged for Maria, the grief counselor, to come into my own class to work with us directly. She talked us through the stages of grief as she had come to understand them.

  • First, we each needed just to tell our individual versions of how it had happened, or how the news had happened to each of us.
  • Then we needed to confess and work through the universal inclination to blame ourselves, irrationally.
  • We needed to share memories and images of Dana, as she lived.
  • Finally we needed to share our ideas about ways we would carry her forward.

It was true: every single child needed to tell both how he or she imagined the event of the accident, and how his or her parent had relayed the news. One child wished he’d told Dana that the movie she was going to see was a waste of time; if he had, she wouldn’t have been crossing that street. I myself had thought, ‟If only I’d assigned more homework that night…” But when I said that out loud, one of the students said, ‟No, that wouldn’t have stopped her…” All of us worked together to face the truth: this was something we couldn’t have controlled, and didn’t.

One child felt Dana’s death as a blow to his own body. He became physically ill whenever we talked about her in any way, and several times had to go home. Still, it was important for us to talk about Dana, not too much, but enough. We couldn’t just dodge what had happened. I struggled to find the right balance.

One girl, Kerry, seemed to have no defense, no delaying numbness, no way to hide from the events or her feelings about them. Again and again, even when we were doing something with no direct relation to Dana’s death, Kerry broke down and cried. But she was touchingly brave in facing and experiencing those feelings and letting them be, crying and then recovering, moving forward. Each time, I felt her carry the rest of us with her.

Whatever we felt, and however we felt it or expressed it, each of us was a resource to the others.

Months went by. I had known enough of other griefs to recognize, in myself, the feeling of trying to walk underwater; a deep weariness. Maria, the grief counselor, had told me to expect some regression from the kids: neediness, crabbiness, helplessness. All that happened. No way out but through.

At home, I worked on a poem based on Maria’s four stages of grief. That helped me move forward, in the way Kerry’s tears had helped her. In school, off and on, I worked with individual kids to write their own letters to Dana, or short accounts of what had happened.

When our class picture was taken, one of the girls held a photo of Dana.

blog photos

Late that spring, Dick asked me to lead the rest of the faculty in writing through that same sequence of parts, the stages of grief, which Maria had explained to us and which I had used in my own poem. Like so much about that whole chapter in my teaching, the memory of my colleagues, crying as they wrote, will never leave me–and I will always be grateful to Dick for discerning, step by step, how our mutual caring could help each of us.

Over the next year, in Dana’s memory, her parents and many of their friends donated the seed money for a new wing to our school. On the wall in that hallway, a painting shows her grinning her inimitable grin, holding one of the cranes we had folded in hope for her. IMG_20130815_100624

Maria, the grief counselor, said that the children who’d been close to Dana could not truly process their shock and loss right away. At ten, or even at twelve, they were too young. ‟Every transition they make,” she said, ‟they will come back to process it again. With any luck they’ll stay in touch with each other, and do some of that together.”

In fact, many of those students have stayed in touch. Many of them, including both Megan and Kerry, are my own Facebook friends. In a way especially needed, somehow, I treasure every smiling photograph they post.