Saturday afternoon, I went into school to catch up on paperwork. Always quiet on a weekend, I thought. Then, around sunset, I heard a tremendous racket from up the hill. Multiple male voices shouting. What the heck? I padded down the main stairs toward the back of the building. As I got to the big doors, I heard a pop, pop, pop, a short pause and then another pop.
I froze. I knew that sound!
For a few seconds, I heard nothing more. I pressed my ear to the door. Then, sirens howled, cars roared and a helicopter rumble crescendoed, shaking the doors in their hinges.
To peek or not to peek? I could not resist. I pushed the door open and poked my head out. An explosion of chopper thunder confronted me as I looked up to see a red helicopter moving into position over the housing units across the street. I reviewed my shooter-emergency checklist. Children? None here! Lock down indicated? Yes indeed, if only for me! Get indoors, principal and quit being the curious fool.
Once inside, I sheltered in place. Five minutes, maybe ten. Chopping noise faded and calm descended. I opened my ears listening for the slightest crackle. Fugitive nearby? Maybe. I had seen only the general direction of the action – in front of a particular building that housed several families that I knew, including Mikaela and Jaron – brother and sister in our second and third grade. These two kids always arrived to school a half hour before anyone else.
After thirty minutes, I couldn’t figure out a smart reason to stay. I decided to get myself home by way of the front door. I went upstairs, grabbed my bag, and tip-toed out, bolting the school doors behind me. I scooted to my car, and rolled downhill.
The imprint of this Saturday sequence stuck with me through the weekend. I contacted staff on Sunday so that they could be ready for the unknown. Then, come Monday, Coach Liz arrived before I did, bringing with her a big boom box. She rolled this portable system to the playground and gave me a wink. I could see she had a plan so I asked her what she had cued up.
“A little bit of soul. Helps to chase the ghosts away.”
Oh how perfect, I thought. This woman is brilliant. In seconds the boom of the bass pumped and melody somehow broke the chill that hung over the yard. Jaron showed up right on time – beaming, and vibrant. Coach called out just a couple of words: “Let’s Dance!” and the small-boned child stepped in, toe-healing in his sneakers, working the blacktop, dancing by himself, dropping low and standing tall. He raised his arms and gazed up into the blue. “Lift it” said a second child and then another. We had a dance party on our hands!
Tears rushed up as I beheld a dozen children, maybe more, cutting it up among painted lines and squares of blue and red. They lifted their laughter skyward to where clouds, not helicopters, now hovered. I saw kids getting up and joining in. I heard myself singing “don’t worry ‘about a thing.”
Children come to the playground to make things right. The blacktop opens us to gifts that fill gaps left by the larger world. Take my hand, dance back doubts, and reclaim what’s yours. No matter how your day began, you can move on even if you have yet to learn the first step.