On the first day of winter, I remember seeing a small-boned child with a mop of brown-hair. He sat on a broken concrete stoop, cradling head in hands and staring out at a pack of bright-jacketed children dashing in dragon lines up the slide and back down. Tumbling balls of primary colors. This boy made no move to join them. He remained still, alone, in thought.
“Who is that?”
“Adam,” the yard teacher told me as she rang the hand bell. “New student?” I asked. “No. He came here last Spring.” He and his classmates filed in through the big doors. I became a bit curious.
I walked through the entire building before I returned to his classroom. I entered to find Adam sitting at a table with four other children. Low sunshine spilled across the room as all of them wrote and drew. All except one, that is.
I made my way to his table:
“Hello.” He did not answer. “Are you Adam?” He looked down. “What did the teacher ask you to do?” No reply. A second child, the one sitting next to him, replied: “She told us write a sentence that tells where we came from. We have to draw a picture too.”
“Can you do that?” He said nothing. Instead, he sat motionless, a big piece of paper spread out before him. “Go ahead. I’ll wait.”
Perhaps a full minute passed before he snagged a crayon and scribbled a string of letters. Then, he slammed down his crayon. “Done already? May I read what you wrote?”
Then he spoke his first words to me: “My letters look ugly.”
Adam had written a single sentence, clear enough for me to read. About coming from a house with one daddy and no mommy and about how he got sad sometimes. Intriguing information, but back to the original point – The handwriting was flawless. I could read every letter. I told him so.
“Your printing is perfect. You make beautiful letters.”
He sat without speaking. I said, “Can I ask you something? Is there anything else you know you can’t do?” The boy looked at me and began to spout a long list- so long that I asked him to stop. “Wait! . . .Let me show you a little trick. What if I knew how to go inside your brain pull out all of the “I can’t’s? Would you let me try?”
Adam returned to silence. I saw him glancing, but he wouldn’t talk. So, I commenced to wiggle my fingers and tap his forehead. He giggled, and I said “Hold on a second. . . Got it!” and then, said I, “It’s out! The biggest ‘can’t’ I ever caught. How do you feel? I’ll put it in my coat pocket. OK?”
He nodded. We smiled. I left.
When I passed him in the lunchroom two hours later, he gestured to me: “Can I have the “can’t” back.” I hesitated, but I let him reach into my inside coat pocket. “I’m gonna throw it away.” I watched as he went to the big gray bin to slam the invisible yuck home.
So, why tell my little tale – this particular moment plucked from a pile of tin? To me, the moment is gold. It provides clues about how to step from under old weight that I never wanted anyway. It offers just enough of a shine to bring a thank you to my lips and a chin-up toward what might come next. For today, I believe that should suffice.