Many years ago, as an elementary school teacher after finishing some afternoon basketball with a group of fifth and sixth graders, I sat down on the bench to catch my breath. Looking upward, basking in the warmth of the California sun, I recharged under the rich blue sky and white billowing clouds. It was the perfect setting to another glorious day of teaching. Then, it got even better after being nudged by the tiny hand of my favorite third-grade student, Natasha. There she sat, giant brown eyes, rosy cheeks, special smile and all.
“Mr. G,” she said. “Last night I had a dream that there was a big hole in the sky because all the grown-ups were smoking so much they polluted the sky. I tried to get them to stop, but they wouldn’t. I knew the hole had to be fixed, so I got all my blue jeans from my closet and sewed them together. Then I got my dad’s really tall ladder and put it in the back yard. I got my blue jeans and my sewing kit, and I climbed up to the hole in the sky and I patched the hole with my blue jeans. Isn’t that a funny dream, Mr. G?”
“Funny? No, Natasha, not funny. It is brilliant.”
She had dreamt a simple solution to a complicated problem. That’s what kids do. With clarity, they make the ills of society disappear. I will never forget that day, as I will never forget Natasha. Born in El Salvador, coming to America speaking no English, she grew up to be a wife, a mother of four, and a Captain in the United States Air Force.
Twenty-eight years after my conversation with 3rd grade Natasha, I stood with the middle school students at Laurel Hall as they organically formed a coalition to hold an impromptu vigil commemorating the one-month anniversary of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Though, discussions had emerged in the Associated Student Body class in the days following the tragedy, no firm student response or plan of action had been made. Yet on this day, students decided that remembering the victims was important. And so, they did.
It was not for me to stand in their way.
So, two 8th grade student leaders, Lola and Katie rounded up their peers at nutrition. Thinking I would be early, I arrived to find the two already standing on the lunch tables surrounded by their classmates. I watched as the young ladies made a plea for an end to school gun violence and the collective group pledge to become part of the solution. Then, the names of the 17 who perished were read.
Katie and Lola led their friends and school staff to the grass where we all formed a giant circle and remained silent for 17 minutes. Near the end of that silence, a student simply began The Lord’s Prayer. What started as a faint, single voice, rose to a crescendo. After the prayer, Katie, Lola and I sent a hand-squeeze “circuit” around the entire circle. When the circuit was complete, all hands still clasped, were raised in solidarity. We closed the vigil by walking the circle inward. When we met in the middle, hugs began to fill the quad.
What occurred on this morning was far removed from any political arena. It was simple action emanating from the souls of children - a reflection of what was, and a promise of what must be. From this student-led vigil, and from my wide-eyed friend Natasha twenty-eight years ago, what I do know is that while we adults continuously complicate, confuse and politicize, it is the children who clear the obstacles we set in their path.
From purity of the heart comes Hope and Faith.