Monday, January 24, 2011
Nora’s gifts were kindness and grace and a gentle, genuine smile. I knew she was different before I knew what those words meant.
We lined the wall of Mrs. Howry’s second grade classroom, one in front of the other, waiting our turn to walk to the cafeteria for lunch. In our minds we were already there, though. Lunch and then recess – a welcome oasis from mornings filled with hard work like Math Facts Baseball and spelling contests. Such relief in the instruction to retrieve lunch boxes and jackets and line up at the door.
Nora certainly was my friend, though we were very different in many ways. She had dark hair and dark skin. I was pale and blonde. I was outgoing and outspoken and still wanted the lead in the school musical (that much would change). She was quiet. Shy, maybe. As I look back and think about Nora, I see a calm and observant spirit that, even now, I envy.
Most of all, though, Nora was kind. She was peaceful. She was gracious. Her eyes always smiled a thoughtful Welcome.
And I noticed that Nora wasn’t standing in line with the rest of us. There she was, still seated in the yellow plastic chair pushed up to her desk, in the very front of her row.
I don’t remember what happened next, exactly. Mrs. Howry certainly must have asked me to help Nora, because I never would have left my place in line otherwise. As I approached her from behind, I realized she was crying, sobbing softly, with her face buried in her arms. Then at the same time Nora stood and Mrs. Howry came over with a wad of paper towels and I could see clearly what had happened. Nora was wet from the waist down, and what the fabric of her clothes couldn’t hold formed a puddle in the concave seat of that school chair.
I took the towels from my teacher and began cleaning Nora’s chair. Little did I know that just a few years later my own embarrassment would be mocked by the contents of a little yellow school chair. Mrs. Howry took over the cleaning and asked me to help Nora to the restroom.
By that time all of our classmates knew what had happened. No one laughed. Real embarrassment hadn't entered our collective experience by seven. At seven, we all just breathed and shared an eerie wisdom that it could have happened to any one of us. (When, and why, do we forget that truth?)
I remember very little of the rest of that day, or of second grade. I do know that Nora remained kind and gracious and quiet. I think of her strangely often. I wonder where she is. I wonder whether she remembers that day. I wonder how it made her feel then. Or now. I thank God, for her, that she was seven and not eleven. I suspect that made a difference.
Nora is someone I wish I could talk to today. I imagine she is living a blessed life, teaching everyone she knows about grace and kindness in the way she carries herself. And helping other people know they are valued with that gentle Welcome smile.
But a lot of times I just wonder why it happened to her. It still makes me sad.
photo by IMLS DCC
Posted by jaime at 4:28 AM