Zero

Two folding chairs sat just so in front of my desk. On the desk a pad, pen and one note in red ink. Oh, that’s right, I said to myself. I need to follow up. I called two students into my office.

Kimberly a thin fifth grader, deep brown and sharp cheeked sat in the chair on the left. She smiled from one side of her face, flicked back a long shock of black hair and looked back at me with mocking eyes – or I should say ‘eye’ since I could see only the eye on the left.

Then came the boy, Alex, a white kid with a pale face, freckles, and washed out, almost-blue eyes. He had a definite gap between his front teeth but nothing else about him came across as sure. His thin frame wanted to disappear under a too-big T-shirt. He squirmed on the chair and looked down or away.

“Your teacher sent you here for cheating. You want to tell me what happened?”

He stammered when he answered my questions. I didn’t lean in too much. Kimberly fidgeted as she waited for Alex to give his side of the story. “Oh my god!” she exhaled and looked at the ceiling. “Come on, Zero. You are taking forever.”

Zero?

Alex answered. “Everyone calls me Zero.” Neither child looked at each other. Alex said nothing so Kimberly cut in with a snitch about yet another boy, Brian, I knew Brian as a tall kid with brows thick as black shrubs. He charmed when he chose to be and at other times slapped third graders as he walked by. It seemed that Brian had a crush on Kimberly.

I was learning plenty, but not a thing about cheating.

“Tell you what. I’m going to have you all sit out a few recesses until your memories improve. I don’t have all day for chatting.”

Then Kimberly spat out some facts: She had accepted homework from Alex and turned it in as her own. Alex’s motivation? A crush on Kimberly. Kimberly, to gain Brian’s favor, passed the homework along. Soon three, four, and five children produced documents with identical errors.

I sent Kimberly out and spoke to Alex alone.

“Alex, what’s happening here?” He stood up, but looked down. I tapped his chest with my index finger. A gentle tap: “My boy, you have to take care of you. I mean this part of you. I can help only so much. Mostly, you have to figure this one out. No joke.”

Hearts, as Parker Palmer tells us, are where “will and intellect and values and feeling and intuition and vision all converge.” They are far more than organs that pump blood; they are the source of one’s integrity.

I tapped the boy’s chest to say “Take care of your heart.” I told him I’d watch out for him. I got clear on where the name “Zero” came from and this triangle story brought it home. The moment became an opportunity in how to protect something fundamental: the right to inhabit the present moment and claim it as our own.

A wound, when well tended, can become a great teacher. My role here is to assure that this cut has no chance to fester.

 

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