Carli Wright - my English 10 colleague, introduced me to Neil Pasricha's "The Book of Awesome" which was based on his blog A Thousand Awesome Things at
You might be familiar with it already - but if you aren't, it's a great gift - a book I can't put down, a book that makes me happy, a book on the bright side, entry after entry.
I introduced it to my classes as the next book we are going to read together and it went over like a lead balloon because Sophomores only want to read for about six and a half minutes and then they are ready for a nap, or treats...or...whatever isn't words on a page.
So I introduced them to the author via Ted Talks at:
And kids cried.
So Carli's hunch paid off - the kids need this book as much as we did.
That was last week - the day after the mass shooting in San Bernadino. The news was heavy that day and for the next few days the shootings magnified the flooding in Cumbria, the refugees leaving Syria, and Donald Trumps polling numbers to mention just a few of the tragedies around the earth.
I thought it would be such a good time to teach a book in which the main theme was looking for the awesome things in your life.
Then one of my best students was pulled out of class via the intercom which connects us to the front office and I can tell you that is never a good sound - unless you are getting excused from class to go with your family to Disneyland. Thinking back, I could hear it in our sweet secretary's voice "Please excuse (this student) to come to the front office." Same as usual, but different. It struck me, the tone in her voice...after 25 years, one can tell.
At lunch, a dear assistant principal came in and told me that I might want to know that my student, the one that got called out of class this morning, won't be back for a few days because her 10 year-old brother accidentally shot and killed himself with a gun he found while he was waiting for the school bus that morning.
Now, I have this kid twice - once for English and once for debate. She is a killer debater, one of the best. So, naturally, with the time I spend at tournaments with debaters, I am invested in her a little more than the usual tenth grader. A lot more. So when I heard the news I was stunned. I immediately thought of the new debate topic which is banning privately owned guns. I wondered how carefully we would need to tread in the coming days with her in class. I started praying to know what to say, how to deal, what to do.
That night after school I was prompted to go out to her house, half hoping that they wouldn't let me in, because I really didn't know what to say. (I'm too smart to ignore a prompting. Learned that lesson the hard way so many times.) I hoped it would come to me. I brought along The Book of Awesome and I didn't know if that was lame, like "read this and everything will be all better!" kind of lame. But I felt that she would like it...she is a straight A kid and so very upbeat.
I was invited into the house by her little sister who looked like she herself had been run over by a train. Her little 12 or 13 year-old face was bright red, her eyes sunken back into the hollows of her face and frequently wiped nose looked chapped and raw. I was invited in with a croak and an apology. No apology needed.
While she was retrieving her older sister, I looked around the big house. I felt as though I was walking into a very crowded room. The Spirit of comfort was so thick I felt ten pound lighter. There was obviously a multitude of angels surrounding this house today. There was a familiar picture of Jesus Christ prominently hung above the fireplace. There was a religious magazine on the table and several sets of scriptures in piles around the bottom of the couch, perhaps left there from morning scripture study with the family. Had that little boy sat there this morning among his family?
The house was filled with people, but it was silent. There were ladies from the church bustling about cleaning and doing laundry. There were several people in the back yard raking leaves. I could smell dinner starting, everyone was working...and crying. While I was waiting, I noticed my student's mom wrapped in a blanket and sitting in the front window being consoled by a neighbor. "I feel so bad, everybody is doing everything..." she said quietly. Then, noticing me, she looked me right in the face and said "She will be so happy that you came." All I could say was "I'm so sorry" to which she replied simply, "we know we will see him again, but the waiting is going to be terrible."
I thought about the Christmas Eve when we lost our son Noah and how it changed the entire season for me from that moment on. I wanted to tell her how I knew how she felt, but she had her son for ten years, she got to know him, to raise him, and my empathy paled in comparison. Then her neighbor said "they also lost a two year-old last year." I was aghast. Like, I cannot breathe aghast. What to say, what to say...please God, help me think of something to say that didn't sound trite in the moment. Nothing. I just nodded in horror.
Then my student came down the stairs, saw me, ran across the room and threw her arms around me. It was right to come. Even if I didn't have anything to say...it was right. She sobbed, wracked with sadness and loss. I wondered how long they would all cry and the kinds of headaches they were all earning. After the most awesome hug ever, I lamely told her that I brought her The Book of Awesome and she said "I'm so glad! I need this book today." I was relieved. Not so lame after all.
So today I announced what happened to my B3 class period full of Sophomores and told them about the accident and that the debaters were collecting money for a gift. I did not make it back to my desk - which is about 15 feet, before two kids had already stood up to deposit money in the envelope. And it wasn't just change - it was $5 and $10 dollar bills and one lumbering kid said "I can go home for lunch today" and gave all his lunch money. And all day long kids have been contributing money. And I have been in that lifted, purified air I get when I see the same teenage girl come into the temple every single Saturday morning without fail. I am in awe because they are ... awesome.