Thursday, December 01, 2005

Remember when I was smart and stuff?

I've been struggling for the past five hours on an application for a teaching position in Kazakhstan. (Kazakhstan? Yes, Kazakstan.) In a moment of desperation, I looked back to some of the essays I wrote four years ago when I was applying to college. Wow. I used to actually be able to write:

(sorry to those of you who might have already read this)
Outdoor School is a magic act so sublime that the audience, a group of sixth-graders, never even finds out they are being beguiled. The illusion that High School students with less than 24 hours of training know exactly how to handle teaching, supervising, and entertaining rambunctious 11-year-olds is so well maintained that after a week illusion becomes reality.

With my right hand atop my head and my left arm rotating slowly in a massive circle, I carved meandering loops across the grass with my feet as eight sixth-graders trailed behind me following suit. My random bursts of song and uninhibited flails of excitement had superseded the apprehension and introversion that blindsided me at the training weekend as soon as the sixth-graders arrived. Changing my gentle pace into a high-kneed skip I led my girls off to our cabin to get them ready for field study.

Rita was loud, rude, and obnoxious, constantly pulling on someone's sleeve at the most inconvenient moment and pleading for attention. Her unkempt hair framed the round cheeks of her small red face, which was dwarfed by her awkward towering body. Her abrasive foghorn laugh caused my shoulders to involuntarily tense up and invariably meant she was brutally pointing out the shortcomings of one of her cabin-mates. I still hugged Rita every night as she settled into her bunk, but my smile in the face of her constant complaints came slower as the week progressed.

Sitting on the damp wooden log during our final campfire, I heard steadily increasing sobs and peered down the line of my cabin's flame-lit faces and saw Rita's profile shiny with tears. I looked at my co-counselor and, with the unspoken understanding that develops between two people after a week of being responsible for a group of kids, she communicated that I should go take care of Rita. Rita's trembling hand in mine, I led her, away from the campfire. She took a seat on a wet stump and convulsed with sobs as I knelt in front of her. I gave her an enduring hug and when her sobs receded I asked her what was wrong. "Everything," she sputtered before launching into a story that was painful to hear. I held her damp hands and looked into her face as she told me about her sister's boyfriend who had died in a car crash, and her mother who had been laid off. Rita had much more to cry about than she was telling me. I opened my mouth, found no words to say, and closed it again. When my cabin began the walk up the dark hill Rita and I slipped in at the end of the line.

Later that night I sat with my peer mentor, a 26-year-old who was as wise to me as I was to a sixth-grader, on a picnic table under a haphazardly strung tarp. She lit a small candle, draining it every few seconds to make designs with the turquoise wax that hissed as it fell onto the soaked wood of the table. Large globules of rain splattered around us as I told her about Rita and asked her advice. She looked at me and sighed.

"You're just like me. You want to save the world. Am I right?" she said with the wisdom of a sage. I looked at her and nodded. "Saving the world is hard," she continued, "you can't always do it."

I frowned. "That doesn't mean I have to stop trying, does it?"

A smile spread across her face. "You're more like me than I thought. Consider this: Rita is going to go home tomorrow, and nothing you can say will make the situation when she gets there any easier. I know this sounds cheesy, but sometimes you have to offer Band-Aids and not cures."

An hour after we put the girls to bed a dark figure appeared in front of my bunk and I recognized Rita's clumsy silhouette. Outside on the steps we talked about her day, and her favorite song, and I told her about the time I tried to unclog a mustard bottle and it exploded all over my face. Rita's laugh made me smile.

The next day Rita went home to her world and I went home to mine. A month later I received an envelope addressed in a large lopsided script. I opened it and found a letter written in pink magic marker. "Dear Jordan, Outdoor School was so much fun. Thank you for talking with me. Maybe we'll see each other again someday. Love, Rita" I took a pushpin and stuck my Band-Aid to the wall.

Ok, so it's a bit cheesy (I'm convinced, at this point, that admissions people really like cheese), but at least it's better than anything I could come up with now.


So I really hope I get this teaching job, but I feel like I can only spew crappity crap crap as I try to answer questions about "major transitions in my life." Let's hope Tapscott wrote me a damn good recommendation...

1 comment:

kta said...

Cheesy stuff is my most favoritest thing ever and that is a great tear-jerking piece of it! I love it!