Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Grateful, Surprised, and Proud

Beatrice Newkirk
Our Writing Teacher

Our writing teacher’s birthday was last week. She went away so we had to have something for her this week. She is a good person. We love having her for our teacher. We have learned so much from her and she is learning a lot from us. Everyone in this class enjoys her. We all hope she has lots more birthdays to come. We want her to know we really love her. We all look forward to seeing her every Thursday from one o’clock until two. Madi (our teacher’s teen intern) has been helping out a lot. We love her too. We all love to work together.

The seniors couldn’t contain their own excitement. When I walked into the classroom last week (dashed in, really – that’s just my usual speed of walking – with my purse, laptop bag, and a big tote with all the notebooks and pens), they already began singing “Happy Birthday.” I looked that our writing table, and it was filled to the edges with cakes, sweets, drinks, and Loretta’s fried chicken.

The cake was huge, and the drinks were heavy. I couldn’t believe the seniors had brought all that in from their houses or from the store, not to mention hauling all the weight up two floors, in order to get everything to the classroom.

Even for those of them who took the elevator, maneuvering big wide boxes must not have been an easy balancing act. Many of them walk with canes.

A whole sea of happy emotions washed over me as they sang. And most of all, I felt grateful, surprised and proud. And I realized those feelings weren’t just my feelings at that particular moment, but something I feel when I am with my senior buds every week.

Grateful. Because I am surrounded by such beautiful people in my life. This project, “The Best Day of My Life So Far” has become much, much more than just this class. But at the same time, this class, and my time every week with my best buds, is so much more to me than this project.

Surprised. Because not only did the seniors self-organize this extravaganza, they have stepped up and up and up through the time I have known them. As individuals, yes, I have seen than in their stories and their smiles, I know that in my heart. But as a team, even more so, they to me signify unbelievable heights, unbelievable strength.

Proud. Because I started this project with a dream, that one by one seniors around me would open up and feel free to be themselves and through their individuality inspire younger people. But reality has surpassed my dreams. And it’s in the little things I notice it –

Every week, Beatrice coordinates the reading order in class; “Mommy” makes sure the table is quiet during writing time so everyone can focus; Norman stays after class to scan the handwritings; Mo stays after to straighten out the room; Henrietta brings a rolling luggage full of snacks; Mr. Robert asks if anyone has a birthday that week; and all of them take turns walking Joe, who is blind, downstairs to help him catch the van after class.

I still remember one of the first field trips I ever took them on, to the public TV and radio station WHYY. I was so worried about all the logistics, like how they were going on and off our van. And they turned out totally fine, beyond fine. We had a blast presenting to reporters and journalist at a state-of-the-art conference room with a huge screen, and just as much of a blast singing goofy songs on the way there and back. I remember wondering why I had worried so much. Realizing that they were capable of great things and all I needed to do was to let them be, and motivate them.

The seniors burst into Happy Birthday song mode 4 more times during the hour of my surprise party. One time Robert started it, giggling; one time Joe started it, with a jazzy vibe; one time Greta started it, laughing out loud. And one time, just everyone, somehow, altogether, spontaneously, at the same time.

I am writing this story so that I can read it to my senior buds in class tomorrow, right off the blog. I hope they like it.