Tonight, a flight attendant got up to tell the story of an insubordinate passenger who didn't sit down when the seat belt light went on. It's a pet peeve of stewardesses, but she decided not to judge, but to talk to the man as he stood there waiting for the bathroom.
"Business or pleasure?" she asked him. "Neither," he replied. The gentleman explained that his son was a first responder at Ground Zero, who never made it out alive. He had flown from California to New York to pick up his son's uniform, which was now in the overhead compartment, now the only thing he had left of his son's!
This flight attendant went on to reflect on why she loves her job so much. "Every person who flies somewhere is going somewhere. The flight is a small part of their story, and I get to be a tiny part of that...We flight attendants think about crowds. 'Stay away from that Fort Lauderdale crowd...That LAX crowd is ugly!' But I like to remember that crowds are made up of lots of individuals--individuals with stories of their own, and I get to be a minor character in their stories for a little while. For that I am thankful."
Are we their heroes that taught them to love to write, who made them forget what they weren't good at, in front of whom they were brave enough to sing out loud, who were maybe the first ones who paid them a compliment on the way they read? Are we the ones with whom they connected in a way that made them love school, that made them know that although they are "partially proficient" on some piece of paper, they have important things to say? Are we the characters that made them understand that a reading level is just a step on a journey instead of a label that follows them forever in a comparison to their friends? This is what we need to be.
They have a similar letter to their students that says that the strangers who scored this test only have very limited information about them.
"They don't know how talented you are at playing an instrument, at the improvement you've made in reading through thousands of hours of practice, or what a good heart you have...They just have this one snapshot of you that one day answering some very challenging questions. They don't know all the things you've done that have really mattered." (I'm paraphrasing.)
However, Sara had voice! She always had something to say, and it usually had great depth at its heart. I think that Sara really turned her attitude about learning around that year.
I visited her room in 4th Grade. She wrote this beautiful poem in her writer's notebook (with some words spelled wrong, but you can't really spell anything too badly if you write it with your soul...).
I peer out of my
onto a frosty, white
My feet are wobblye
like a foal when
But my smiles soon
turned into a
I fell on the
with a thud.
and put out her hand
sending me a little more
to help me
I think about my role as a character in the story of Sara's life, and realize there is nothing common at the core of it. Like those New York principals told their students, there was something there that really mattered in our time together.