Thanksgiving gives us the opportunity to reflect on life's gifts. This year my gratitude is focused on the writers' workshop I conduct at the Oro Valley Public Library every other Wednesday morning.
Last week, Bonnie Wehle, one of my students, read a poem she had written about a child being evacuated because of Hurricane Sandy.
Here is her poem:
Father says there is danger.
She knows he is serious.
She has never seen him like this before.
They have to leave immediately.
She has little time to decide what to take
That will hold her young life together,
Anchor her to the memories of this place,
The only home she has known.
What will be here when she returns?
Will there be anything left of the house?
Will she ever return at all?
So many unanswered questions.
He says to take only what she can carry herself.
She fingers her diary, her mother's photo, her favorite doll.
Are these the things that define her,
That encapsulate her life so far?
She clutches her trinkets, her totable life,
These, and what she can hold in her heart, must suffice,
She is leaving her world behind,
Journeying she knows not where.
Her past packaged in a mere armful.
After Bonnie read the poem to the class, there was a moment of silence. Then the clapping began. My response to her poem was visceral. Memories flooded my mind and heart. I was taken back to being 16 years old.
My family - two adults and three children - lived in a tenement on Houston Street on Manhattan's Lower East Side. We had one closet, one bathroom and not really a bedroom, but a large room separated by an arch. There was a kitchen and a foyer. When I recall those living arrangements I wonder where we kept our clothes. How did we manage to live that way while respecting each other's privacy? I don't recall ever wishing I had my own room, or my own bathroom, luxuries I now take for granted.
Reflecting on the poem, I remember how frightened I was when we moved to a bigger apartment.
Even though the little girl in the poem is being evacuated to save her life, she is afraid of the unknown. Reflecting on the last line of Bonnie's poem, I teared up. "Her past packaged in a mere armful." Devastating enough to an adult but unbearable to a child.
We moved and I learned a valuable lesson. Don't be ruled by fear. Instead of running scared, face your demons. Take the risk. You can't imagine where the road will take you.
A true example of this happens every time my group meets. Many of the students are filled with fear when they come to the workshop for the first time. But they take the risk by revealing their writing. With encouragement they find that putting words to paper is an awesome experience. Their confidence grows.
I am extremely grateful to these dedicated students. Each of them shares sensitive and beautiful thoughts. They think I'm teaching them. The truth is I learn something from them every time we meet.
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