“Further, since being a writer involves the building of bridges between our own life experience and that of others, our job is to find the most significant points of connection between ourselves and our readers.” -Luci Shaw, The Writer’s Notebook, essay in A Syllable of Water
I remember as vividly as if it were yesterday how I felt in the days after September 11th. My daughter and I were in New York City that day and the next, staying with my nephew who had graciously hosted us in his Brooklyn apartment. After the world exploded, we set out for upstate NY, where my sister-in-law lived, with plans to camp out there until we could get on a flight back home to Seattle.
We overnighted along the way in a hotel where several pilots were staying. As shocked and traumatized as I was after the sky rained down ash and powder for 24 hours, I couldn’t imagine being a pilot and having to face the reality that my job was to get back into the cockpit of a jet and fly the next day. When we checked into our hotel, I boldly approached each one of them and thanked them for their bravery. They were being called to do one of the most unthinkable jobs on the planet. And they went anyway.
As my daughter and I traveled back to the West coast four days later through three different airports, flight attendants and pilots somberly passed us, their rolling bags trailing behind them, faces set like flint. Again I said ‘thank you’ as often as I could; some of the flight attendants also got a hug.
The country is reeling again from another tragedy, outraged at the carnage and loss of life at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida. Many have taken their outrage and channeled it to finding a cause or pointing a finger—more gun control, revamping FBI practices, engaging in more stringent oversight of those mentally ill—each a just and worthwhile issue.
I am not going to argue the wisdom of those efforts, nor am I ignoring the energy and passion of the survivors at Marjory Stoneman who are marching next month. Everyone has a right to use their voice where and how they can.
For my small part, I sat down yesterday and did what writers do: I wrote a letter to my oldest grandson’s high school teacher. In it, I suggested a practice of checking in with students every Friday for a few minutes at the end of the day to see how they are doing. Not verbally, but via paper. (Glennon Doyle Melton recounted the idea via her article at rd dot com and I borrowed it from her.)
High school staff and teachers are the people on the front lines every day from New York to California, Montana to Florida and everywhere in between, who have to go back to work in their buildings after a richly deserved day off and face their jobs again.
They will show up and keep showing up and caring for kids and pouring out their lives day after day in classrooms all over America.
If you know a kid in high school, if you HAVE a kid in high school, if you know a High School teacher, can you take 10-15 minutes to write a note to that principal or teacher? Something like,
“Thank you for facing your job each day under unthinkable circumstances, for doing the difficult job of caring for kids,” or just plain, “thank you.” You can read my letter here and adapt it for your own.
Or heck, print out this excerpt below (from Glennon Doyle, re: her son’s 5th grade teacher) and pass it along to the teacher or principal. You never know, it might save someone’s life. Or many someone’s lives before more children are lost to loneliness, emptiness and despair.
“Every Friday afternoon, she asks her students to take out a piece of paper and write down the names of four children with whom they’d like to sit the following week. The children know that these requests may or may not be honored. She also asks the students to nominate one student who they believe has been an exceptional classroom citizen that week. All ballots are privately submitted to her.
And every single Friday afternoon, after the students go home, she takes out those slips of paper, places them in front of her, and studies them. She looks for patterns.
Who is not getting requested by anyone else?
Who can’t think of anyone to request?
Who never gets noticed enough to be nominated?
Who had a million friends last week and none this week?
You see, Chase’s teacher is not looking for a new seating chart or “exceptional citizens.” Chase’s teacher is looking for lonely children. She’s looking for children who are struggling to connect with other children. She’s identifying the little ones who are falling through the cracks of the class’s social life. She is discovering whose gifts are going unnoticed by their peers. And she’s pinning down—right away—who’s being bullied and who is doing the bullying.
As a teacher, parent, and lover of all children, I think this is the most brilliant Love Ninja strategy I have ever encountered. It’s like taking an X-ray of a classroom to see beneath the surface of things and into the hearts of students. It is like mining for gold—the gold being those children who need a little help, who need adults to step in and teach them how to make friends, how to ask others to play, how to join a group, or how to share their gifts. And it’s a bully deterrent because every teacher knows that bullying usually happens outside her eyeshot and that often kids being bullied are too intimidated to share. But, as she said, the truth comes out on those safe, private, little sheets of paper.
As Chase’s teacher explained this simple, ingenious idea, I stared at her with my mouth hanging open. “How long have you been using this system?” I said.
Ever since Columbine, she said. Every single Friday afternoon since Columbine. Good Lord.
This brilliant woman watched Columbine knowing that all violence begins with disconnection. All outward violence begins as inner loneliness. Who are our next mass shooters and how do we stop them? She watched that tragedy knowing that children who aren’t being noticed may eventually resort to being noticed by any means necessary.
And so she decided to start fighting violence early and often in the world within her reach. What Chase’s teacher is doing when she sits in her empty classroom studying those lists written with shaky 11-year-old hands is saving lives. I am convinced of it.” (read the entire essay here.)
Build a bridge, be a connection, stand in the gap. Fill the gaps with love, and maybe a letter.