Thursday, March 01, 2007

GRANDFATHERS, ANGELS, 3RD GRADERS

Yesterday, I led a poetry workshop with 3rd graders at Columbus Elementary School. We were imaginng ourselves as animals, objects, and ideas in nature. Nicole read a poem about being a butterfly that flies so high into the air that she ends up in outerspace. She can't breathe and starts to fall down, down, down. The stars reach out and grab her, saving her from a terrible death.

Meanwhile, Hector is quietly falling apart over the loss of his grandfather. Hector is crying at his desk, mourning, holding his head down by his chest. He asks if he can write a poem about his grandfather and draws a coffin with his grandfather's body inside. He can't stop crying. Hector is a short, stout boy with a crew cut. He's wearing a white shirt and jeans. His eyes are red and swollen. I try to console him but he can't stop crying. We try to talk about it and suddenly Nastacia, a chubby girl wearing a hot pink sweater with gold flecks, cries out, "HECTOR! Your grandfater is an ANGEL looking down on your from heaven! Don't worry, Hector, don't cry, he's right HERE!" she says, pointing emphatically to his shoulder. She insists that Hector's grandfather in an angel and he's in the room with us right now. Hector stops sniffling. His neighbor Vincent agrees with Nastacia. He says, "she's right, your granfather is an ANGEL!" Hector nods softly and picks up a pencil. He draws haunting, stretchy hearts that seem to float out of the coffin. He seems to calm down a bit, and wants to read his poem out loud.

This is the clearest expression of what my friend and artist Rachel McIntire calls "the value of emotional exchange" among children. They didn't need me. They had each other. Hector, Nastacia, and Vincent worked through their own ideas about poetry and spirituality and handled it with grace and calm. I watched them in awe. I wondered why adults so often forget these basic gestures of consoling -- perhaps it's that we lose our certainty that angels indeed live and move among us. I'm not so sure about angels myself but in this moment, I was relieved to know that Hector's grandfather WAS there to ease his pain, and also so grateful for Nastacia's absolute certainty that everything was going to be alright.

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