By the time Friday rolls around, I often feel like this apple.
An immobilized lump smack dab in the middle of endless art making debris.
Squished, definitely not a native fruit, but still some shine left.
This particular apple was brought to me by a sixth grade student. “Here Miss, I brought you an apple.”
I thought to myself, ” What’s wrong with it? Did you spit on it? Or worse?”
Shaking off my cynical suspicions, I thanked him for the sincerity of the cliched gift for the teacher. The fact that his fidgety hands proceeded to bang the apple on the table and hammer it further with some art tools he should have been using for something besides fruit flattening did not, in my mind, diminish the sweetness of the thought behind the act. As a teacher, you take what you can get; even something that loosely resembles gratitude from a student- you put it in your pocket, and go.
You never know where noticing gratitude can lead you. In the very least, it can make a mark, like a cast shadow formed when the sun shines. On those days of gratitude dearth, we can reach into our pocket of gratitude shadows and maybe find out we aren’t as crooked as we feel.
Feeling a bit straighter and less stooped with this new tidbit of thankfulness safe in my pocket, I stepped away from the apple giver-squisher to see how the folks on the other side of the room were faring.
Along the way, I passed a student who was finishing up a delicate portrait with a meticulous range of lights and darks. He looked so absorbed, I decided not to disturb him. “Excuse me Miss,” he stopped me. “I wanted to thank you.” Ignoring the fact that every one of my hair follicles was tightening in disbelief, I asked this middle school boy why he wanted to thank me. “I was always afraid to draw faces, so I always stuck with landscapes. You helped me not be afraid to draw a face. Now I love drawing faces. Thank you.”
What? Was this a middle school boy talking? I checked the strength of my magnifiers.
They seemed ok. No hearing aid yet to adjust, so I assumed my reality check was complete. Holding back the urge to faint, I calmly said “You’re welcome.”
And in my pocket it went. Swish.
I staggered over to the other side of the room to help another student for whom using the grid technique to draw a face had not made sense all week. The marks on his paper looked like he was still struggling, but his own face was beaming with pride. I sat on the other side of his table to counsel him, maybe explaining the grid technique for the eighth time might make sense, I thought.
Instead, he said, “Look Miss!”
“What do you think?” I asked. (The therapist’s equivalent of “How do you feel about that?)
“Its amazing, Miss! I am amazing! I thought my drawing would be terrible, but it is actually pretty good. You taught me that I can draw a face that is not terrible! Thank you so much, Miss!” He proceeded to reach over the table to give me a big hug, his head resting on my shoulder, and he repeated “Thank you so much!”
In the pocket it went.
I kid you not. And these are middle school boys. No lie.
My pockets were bursting with gratitude shadows that rare day. Straight into the savings account they went.
Because on all days, the rare, the good, the bad, and the mundane; after a day of art making in room 141,
the air is saturated with the energy and passion that was mustered and poured into the work at hand,
which leaves me both squished and shiny like the apple.
Shiny (and squished) with the joy of helping kids to make their mark, cast their shadow, with their own hands. Shiny (and squished) with bearing witness to sweet moments dripping with the joy of creation that is uniquely their own.
over and over again.
Squished with the constancy of giving energy while simultaneously reigning and controlling energy at any and every moment.
Teaching art can be kind of like trying to smile while wearing a scuba mask.
Or trying to meditate on the surface of the water.
Keeping the balance of pure unadulterated expressiveness and controlled peace and order
without losing my mind.
It helps to keep in mind that the simplest of tree trunks can leave the most complex of cast shadows.
And that in looking from a new point of view, we can see some of the most gratifying of shapes.
And that it can all change in the blink of an eye.
The conversation that seemed like it would never end is now just two chairs sitting in the sun.
When the sun sets, the shadows, too, will disappear.
Keeping the evanescent nature of our marks on the world in perspective,
I wonder how that paw paw will look by the time this Friday rolls around.