The Last Day

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I wanted to walk to school on my last day.

It was a bright winter morning and I wanted to feel the cold on my face as I walked up the hill toward Elm Street. It was to be my last walk as a teacher and I wanted to savor the moment.

As it turned out I wasn’t able to savor anything. Strangely, I’d slept late, something I rarely do. Consequently,  I spent the morning frantically trying to gather up the gifts and cards I’d put together for my students and teacher friends. I kept messing up filling out the card envelopes and had to start over several times. I forgot the name of a teacher who I worked with…it just left my brain…gone. I was not myself.

I missed breakfast, another thing I hardly ever do. I eat like a Hobbit…breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, and then lunch. I missed breakfast and forgot to pack a lunch.

Ten minutes before I had to be at school I asked the Fiery Irishgirl to throw something in my lunch box while I stumbled about the garage searching for a box big enough to hold all the gift bags. When I looked at the size of the box I needed I realized I wouldn’t be walking to school. I swallowed hard, my breath a white puff in the cold garage.

What’s the big deal?

So, I can’t walk to school on my last day gazing at the frosted fields by Laurel Lane and the sun shimmering above the pines that stand sentinel near the big yellow house while contemplating the end of a chapter and the beginning of another.

Why do I think my life has to be like a Meg Ryan movie?

Haven’t I figured out by now that endings and good-byes don’t always wrap up nicely with a pretty bow on top? Not everything works itself out on top of the Empire State Building.

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I sped off  in the convertible.

Harried and un-made up, my hair splayed across my face, I parked and then tried to finagle the box of gifts out of the car, a vehicle I do not like for several reasons, one being the utter inconvenience of putting anything bigger than a Chinese take-out bag into the back seat. I managed to drag the box across the parking lot, retrieve my big key from my coat pocket to unlock the school door, then bumble my way down the corridor. Once I got the box into the classroom the day became like every other day.

All the normal struggles, all the normal resistances.
All the normal reminders, all the normal encouragements.

There was some reading and a little writing.
There was an uneventful music class and a skirmish-free recess.

I read the last chapter of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, thankful I didn’t choke up like I do every year when I get to place where Imogene Herdman bumps into the grace of God for the first time.

I handed out my gifts and a fourth grader made a speech complete with a bow. There was a group hug and then it was time for coats, hats and mittens to be gathered up. I led the last trek through the hallway to the waiting bus. One last goodbye and that was it.

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That’s how it is with children.

What you see is what you get.
And what you get is them.

Children don’t care that good-byes are awkward and messy. They don’t hug quickly and they don’t divert their eyes. They don’t get it over with. They just stand there and look at you. They tell you exactly how they feel.

They put plastic jewels in an old puzzle box wrapped with lined paper because they want to give you something that sparkles. They will draw a picture of you and when they hand it to you they will tell you they love you.

On your last day you get their best coloring page, one they’ve worked on for weeks and were saving to hang in their room.

On your last day a wrapped gift made for someone else is pulled from a backpack and given to you instead.

“Aren’t you going to unwrap it?”   Oh…yes, of course.

Peeling away the paper you see the photo of a child who just days ago rested in your arms after saying terrible things; a photo where she has refused to smile for the camera.

“You’re going to put it on your fridge, right?”  Yes. Yes, I surely will.

Shortly before it was time to go home, I watched a child, unraveled with rage, rip up his papers and books. In his fury he threw everything, including the gift I gave him, fragile and sentimental, across the floor.

A child sitting next to him motioned for me.  “Did you see? He threw your gift.”

I know.

“What if it’s broken?” 

I think it’s going to be okay.

And it was. I don’t know how I knew, I just did.

Moments later, I watched as the sobbing angry child, tears streaming from his face reached his arm back, reaching, reaching until his small hand folded over the gift and, lifting it ever so gently, he placed it back on his desk. Unbroken. On my last day.

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Let Nothing You Dismay

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All five of my children broke through the womb when the frost hit hard.

The first two at Thanksgiving and another on the fiftieth anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day. Two more came near winter’s end when everyone is longing for spring, but the snow keeps piling high.

My babies met winter on their first day out of doors. They were swaddled in fleece, the first barrier I put up against the cold. Five times I pinched a blanket and laid it above their noses in an effort to keep the wind chill from stealing their breath. Five times I turned from the front seat, unbuckling my seat belt to adjust a too-big knitted cap from sliding off to one side and down over one baby eye.

Birth is the first trauma.

It is a traumatic thing to be pushed out of the warmth of a liquid cocoon only to be mercilessly squeezed through a narrow passageway, the plates of our skull shifting to protect our brain while the rest of our curled up body straightens out for the first time.

We aren’t even breathing yet as we descend into who knows where, and when we do, getting air into our lungs for the first time isn’t always easy. Some of us open wide and gulp oxygen right away, but many of us are silent…until the umbilical cord gets taken from our necks. Some of us need help, a quick jarring to loosen the fluid in our lungs before we gasp…before we breathe.

Our mothers were never more closer to their own death than when they gave birth to us. It’s a wonder that any of them went through it more than once. Yet, most of them will tell you this sort of thing doesn’t matter one bit once their baby was placed in their arms.

All that squeezing and contracting.
All that pain and fear.

The trauma of birth is a fading mist when a mama meets her baby for the first time. Birth is the last bit of trauma any child should ever know.

But the world has fallen down.
She has broken herself and trauma is everywhere now.

Children who should be playing and laughing and dreaming are fighting and crying and nightmare-ing.

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I know because I hold trauma in my hands every day.

I hold it until it goes limp in my arms. I quietly rock it back and forth, back and forth. I wipe its tears and I stroke its hair. I whisper that I care and that it’s going to be all right,  even though I know for some, it won’t be.

Humans can’t fix this kind of trauma because no one can fix the human heart.

So many grown-up humans think they have the answer; the right social service, the tailor-made program, but not so grown up humans know they don’t. Because these little ones will tell you there is still no food in the cupboard, but there are needles…there are bottles. They will tell you there are backhands and ugly words and there are evictions and cardboard boxes.

And they will tell you so much more by not telling you anything at all.

My mother told me not to tell and you can’t make me tell you anything.

So they roar.

When I hear the roar of a child that is the roar of trauma, I feel something shatter. The world breaks apart just a little bit more. It doesn’t make sense, but in the middle of the roaring I come closer. As I do, I pray under my breath…O’ God, O’ God, O’ God…heal the despair, comfort the dismay.  It’s hard to know when to move toward fear and loathing. It doesn’t make sense that holding tight to trauma can be a comfort in the end. When the roaring stops and the broken child is spent, there is rest.

It’s what I need to know this Christmas. That there is, and will be, rest.

God rest ye merry gentlemen let nothing you dismay…

That not even the trauma or brokenness of a child can completely unravel me.

Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day.
To save us all from Satan’s pow’r
When we were gone astray…

Do these children instinctively know somewhere deep inside of them that all has gone astray, so roar they must? Is not their roaring the proper response to trauma and all that has gone wrong with the blue planet?

These children roar the roar of injustice.
They push and shove against neglect.
They bite the pain of abuse.

Because no child, after leaving the safety of the womb, their lungs heaving for the first time, should ever have to know trauma again.

For to us a child is born…

The Ancient of Days has come.

The brilliance of God has squeezed through a birth canal, the plates in his skull shifted and his body unfurled until He too, opened His mouth and gulped air.

…to us a son is given…

A Son given to us by way of the thorn, the lash and finally the cross, the ultimate instrument of torture and trauma that heals all traumas, forever and ever.

From the place of the cross it is He, the Lion of Judah who gets the last roar.

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Oh tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
Oh tidings of comfort and joy.

 

 

Lion image courtesy of Basehead Art.com