There never was such a thing at Oceanside Junior High School.
It was never considered.
We bullied and were bullied and no one noticed.
We lost family members and friends and there was no public outpouring of love or concern.
We were there to learn the facts and figures the teachers had to offer.
Our emotional lives were secondary.
That's not the case these days.
Schools are rising to the occasion, teasing out feelings and offering opportunities to share in public.
Sometimes the activities are event specific, responding to a current horror.
Sometimes the activities are more general, touching deeper pieces with a lighter touch.
The day before Thanksgiving Break was just such an activity.
Amphi Middle Schoolers spent the day moving from classroom to classroom with their homeroom advisories, writing letters to servicemen, creating Beads of Courage bracelets, sculpting beads from clay, and painting Ben's Bells flowers.
As always, the principal invited me to share the joy.
As always, I left with a full heart.
Look at all the fun we had.
Ms. Taylor, wearing her AMS t-shirt, gave the instructions to a smiling crowd.
Classrooms haven't changed that much since I was 13.
This looks just like the science room I remember from OJHS.
The unglazed bisqueware flowers were ready .
Ms. Taylor explained the three coat process.
Choose your color.
Apply a thin coat on all surfaces.
Apply a second coat.
Apply a third coat.
Once it's all dry, decorations can be added.
The paintbrushes had seen better days (notice the upward tilt on this one)
but the artists didn't seem to care.
The big boys weren't too proud to paint, either.
although I had to be surreptitious in my photography.
Giggling was the order of the day, because painting Kindness Flowers is a happy chore.
The teachers got into the spirit of the event,
supervised by a vigilant student to insure that all the surfaces were covered.
This tutu stopped me in my tracks.
I want one.
When they were all done, the sticks were set in styrofoam blocks to dry.
By the end of the morning, we had a table full of love.
It was an amazing sight.
Through it all, I shared the mess and the clean up and the story telling.
Who was I?
I was there?
The sixth graders are as old as she would be today.
One of them shares her birthday; she told me that she loved C-T all the more because of that.
Another was a classmate of hers in elementary school, before she moved to be closer to AMS.
Another was on the way to the grocery store when the police directed his father away from the scene.
One lost her Uncle Chuy two weeks ago; the pain was still raw.
Sharing CTG's father's maxim - Christina does not want you to be sad all the time - put a big smile on her face. Her Uncle Chuy was always laughing, always cheering her up, she'd take that maxim and make it her own.
One lost his younger brother to gunfire in Chicago. His younger brother.... several years ago.... and he's only in middle school now. So much rage and fury and thoughts of revenge for the unknown shooter, and he knew I knew just what he meant. That young man looked at me with eyes that saw into my soul. We had both experienced the loss of one taken too soon, by inexplicable violence, with no rhyme or reason, leaving us behind to bear the burden. His fists clenched and unclenched as he shared his story.
I didn't suggest moving forward or forgiveness. I didn't suggest anything at all. I listened and nodded and we kept on painting, wiping the feelings into the bisqueware, soaking them into the clay, turning our sorrow into a small medallion of hope and smiles and kindness shared.
It's a small gesture, a tiny step, but it helps .... a lot.
We cannot bring them back.
We can share the love they felt.
That's all there is.
Last Wednesday, it was enough.