Nothing happens in a vacuum.
I was teaching at a small Catholic school in south St. Louis. A nice place filled with a blond army of German descendants and city workers. One of my little first graders fell on the playground, collapsed, and after the aide sent him up with his classmates to my room on the third floor, he passed out at his desk. I carried him down the steep steps to the office and his mom came to pick him up. She looked worried. No. Terrified. I wasn't a parent yet but I could feel it.
I left for Milwaukee that evening and spent a very short weekend with friends. In the days before cell phones, I was terrified when I came home to over 20 messages on the machine Sunday evening. My room mother calling me. My principal. My coworkers.
He'd broken his hip, my first grader. Because he had a tumor.
It looked like Ewing's sarcoma. Bone cancer. Lots of scans. He was in the hospital, and Monday after school the principal and I went together to see him. She was weeping in the car. I was too young to grasp the gravity. Yet.
We got to his room, and there was his mom, looking like you might think she would. I sat and talked with my little guy and a doctor came in. The films had been sent to Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital. They had news.
It wasn't Ewing's sarcoma. It was benign.
While this was happening, in the previous weeks, I had interviewed for a new job at my parish school. It was taking them longer than I wanted to decide. And that principal crying in her car? She had become thin-lipped with me, often angry, calling me out at faculty meetings (goodness I'm better at it now, working for people?).
And over the course of the few months previous, my life was becoming a huge mess. I was developing an unhealthy drinking problem, again. I was beginning to see that maybe I was the integral piece in all of my
problems. I put on a bunch of weight, my house was a mess, my life
Because my little guy couldn't make it up 2 flights of stairs in a
body cast, I made an arrangement with his mother to come by his house 3
afternoons a week and tutor him so that he wouldn't fail first grade. When I told my principal my plan, she had shrugged: "well, shit happens, you know. Lots of
kids fail for unfair reasons."
She told me I was enabling him. A first grader in a body cast who narrowly escaped amputation and death. Enabling.
was not one of my favorite students before the accident, and while I
grew to like his mother, I never really clicked with him. But I kept
going to these tutoring sessions on my way home. My school year ended
with one last argument with the principal, in front of my class. My
team teacher didn't say goodbye.
But later in June, his mom
called me and asked if she could bring something over. I said, sure.
She brought over a beautiful little statue replica of the Pieta. She
brought over a rosary blessed by the pope. And a card she had made
herself, with the lyrics to this Natalie Merchant song on the inside:
Oh, I want to thank you for so many gifts
you gave with love and tenderness,
I wanna thank you
So the whole year wasn't a waste after all. And maybe I could move onward and upward from there. Because I learned life should be an open hand, not a closed fist. WHO CARES if I was enabling him? It cost me so little and gave him so much. It was how I had to live. Nichevo.