Bedside Manner

I have the most terrible bedside manner, if you can call it that. One of my students sidled beside me on our way back into the classroom from recess and announced somberly, “My fish died.” It was almost as if the thought had caught her off guard, the way her eyes registered disbelief and her eyebrows furrowed consolingly inward.

I paused a moment, having been as taken by surprise as her, and offered the usual condolence, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.” Except I actually was. It wasn’t just something that came tumbling from my mouth out of habit. I really was sorry to know that she was experiencing loss. Even if only the loss of a fish. But then who’s to say a pet fish death is inconsequential?

Anyhow, the child was clearly sad. She had been running around and giggling just a moment ago, but now she was grief stricken. It was an interesting type of melancholy to witness. One that sneaks up on you and sinks in its teeth, right when you think you’re alright. It looked familiar.  She seemed almost more perplexed by the experience than hurt. Like it was the first time she was digesting such a feeling. I think we can learn a great deal about humanity from watching and engaging with children. The way their fresh souls experience things and churn out certain reactions is pretty fascinating.

She turned my expression of empathy over in her mouth a little and assumed an appreciative but resigned little pout. My condolence had done nothing to solve the problem of the fish’s now lack of existence, but she recognized, even as someone so young, that there was nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t help her anymore than she had helped her dear little fish herself.

“Yeah,” she replied to both our unspoken confessions.

“That’s just the way things happen in life,” I explained, though she clearly had already experienced this truth for herself. “Things are born and eventually they die,” I continued. “Even you and me.”

I know.

Maybe not the best time to remind a 7 year old that she’s a finite creature. That’s a pretty scary realization for a child.

Heck, it’s scary even for most adults. But I thought it was a valuable learning moment to put things into perspective. Everything dies. Plants, animals, humans, you name it.  It’s just an irrefutable thing that happens. It’s what those that are left behind do with the memory that makes it a happy or sad event. It doesn’t have to be Earth shattering. In fact, the Earth has proven to keep spinning time and time again. Whether that’s cruel or not is our interpretation.

Our class is learning about what soil’s composed of in science and part of the state standard requires the students be taught that it’s made up of small rocks and once-living things. At first I was surprised they went into such detail, went as far as to mention the role of death in soil’s composition. We so often shelter our children from the realities of life. But in the end, I thought it a very healthy thing to reveal, even to such young people. I honestly believe that it’s when people start becoming blindsided as unguided preteens and teenagers, and even adults, by obvious tidbits of life like this, that we develop adverse reactions and consequently unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with them. We ignore things, suppress them, refuse to digest them.  Until it creeps up on us in a traumatic way that’s close to us and then we implode and wonder why.  I think it’s only natural little ones be taught to get used to this cycle, with some easing in of course.

I mean, just think about it. All organisms that are now alive are literally living off of the remains of animals and people that have passed away. Whether you’re vegetarian or not, you’re benefiting off of the expired life force of another. It’s morbid, yes, but also sort of amazing how well in tune that works.

I didn’t get to expound on this Simba-esque circle of life sort of idea, and probably for the best. I don’t know. But at that point, one of my other students had butt in with his own wisdom.

I was born,” he declared. “I think I was two years old at that time.”

Which I then had to chuckle at and call time to start walking in line for writing period. It diffused some of the tension in the air as I corrected him and told him he would have been zero. He looked dumbfounded that such an age was possible and my fish-less student soon relaxed as her mind probably wandered to some other topic.

In any case, despite my bedside manner being perhaps a little too frank, she took it in stride. As children often do.  

 

~LDA

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Dewy Letters: A Poem on Optimism

He chuckled

Dewy letters trickling

Out of his mouth 

All hopeful proposals

And bouncy grins

 

Unfortunately

 

They froze before they hit the ground

Solidified by the critical stares

Of his eye cocking recipients

 

They shattered  

Launching splinters of

T’s

                                       H’s

                                                                          and W’s

                                                                                                     Into his innocent eyes

 

“I think

I hope

I wish“

 

His soul convulsed as they made

Impact with the unforgiving concrete

 

One shard of expression

Found its way

Directly into the darkness

Of the pupil

 

And maneuvered a path

Into his veins

Sending fatalism and apathy

Seeping into his bloodstream

 

The virus of death had been triggered

Awakened was the dormant code

Seemingly

Powerless until acknowledged

 

All at once

His chest became cold

And his mouth downturned

 

One eyebrow twitched upward

And his feet made a pivot

 

The assembly line shifted forward

And he thought to himself

“Who is this grinning fool standing in front of me?”

 

 

~LDA

That Familiar Crack

I don’t know why I even hesitate to pick up a pen or set my fingers upon a keyboard.

I never regret it when I’m finished.  Even if what I’ve written is total crap, there’s satisfaction in having put words on a page.  A certain kind of alignment of the spirit in having successfully transformed the firing of neurons in my brain into something someone else can read.  There’s a thrill in the possibility of setting off fireworks in someone else’s brain.  Even if in the end what I’ve written is so terrible and unworthy of reading that I want to burn it, bury it and have a cow poop on it just so no one ever gets their hands on it, I’m still happy to have sat down and written.

And still.

There is always this arresting hesitation born of angst that takes hold when I’m about to sit down and write.  Like if I pick up this pen the world might be set on fire, but not in a good way.  Or if I click that first letter on the keyboard I might never be able to stop.  Which in my opinion is not a bad way to die.  In fact, it would be sort of awesome to be able to say I died whilst on a literary tirade, but also kind of a stumbling block to the other goals in my life if I died so prematurely.  So there’s this hesitation to begin writing.

Of course,

I do it anyway.

On good days.

On you’re going to sit your butt in this chair and write even if it is literally the last thing you do, days.  On the world is a mystical place and you have to hurry up and get it down on paper, days.  On the you’ve set this deadline for yourself and you’re going to meet it or you basically deserve to be dead, days.  Notice how those days that smell like death came twice.  They come a lot more often than the mystical ones.

But still, I write.

Once, I thought I could let the angst win out and watch my writing life evaporate on the pavement in front of me, like so much catapulted saliva.  Slowly it swirled into the sky.  I watched it with both eager anticipation and terror.  Was this really happening?  Was it working?  Is all it takes some patient laziness?  My small pond became a puddle, and it soon was small enough to fit in the palm of one hand.

Then,

it was gone.

Or so I thought.

I turned around and began walking away, ready to throw a party or surrender myself to the nearest volcano.  To this day I don’t know which.  Maybe both.  In any case, something made me stop, turn around, and stoop real close to the ground.  There on the pavement was a crack.  And from that crack trembled a solitary drop of moisture, stubborn and hopeful.  I crouched there squinting at it for a long time.  Days, weeks, months.  I was watching to see if it too would eventually join it’s brothers in the unforgiving sky, but it didn’t.

Or it wouldn’t.

I’m not sure which of these either.

All I know is that no matter how long I stared at it, that droplet did not fade away.  And it was then that I knew in my gut that no matter how I long I watched, it would never go away.  There was something deep beneath the ground ensuring its existence.  Something annoying, and sure ,and as stubborn as me.  It let me know that there was no amount of running or hiding or overwhelming ray of angst that would burn that droplet away.

Ever since then, I pick up the pen and set my fingers on the keyboard because I have to.  Or at least I might as well.  Anytime I get too anxious about what I’m doing with this writing thing or why, I just squint down at that familiar crack.  Even if it’s too deep down at the bottom of the spring for me to see.

~LDA