Small Things

Writing is therapeutic. It is for me, at least. Whenever I have been at my most confused, my most disoriented, my most misdirected–writing has helped clarify and organize my jumbled thoughts.  After the tragedy on Friday, I haven’t been able to write. I tried to write a poem… but I just don’t have the words. I’m still waiting, perhaps this blog post will help get them flowing.
I am devastated.
I am angered.
I am sickened.
I am fearful.
I am hopeful.
I am thankful.
Louise’s Farm School–Some of the best kiddos around!

A friend shared this poem by the wise and wonderful Wendell Berry:


When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Reading it makes me feel tingly, a bit lighter, a bit more hopeful. Escaping the forethought of grief is so difficult. I did this the other day on a brief, yet beautiful, ski trip to Hatcher Pass.  I love the feeling of floating on the snow, I imagine it’s like flying. It’s one of those joyful, brief moments in life. But then, I thought of Connecticut. I felt like sobbing at the thought that those little kids will never have the opportunity to ski on powder. They’ll never have the opportunity to meet their first loves. Some of them will never have the opportunity to tie their own shoes. It’s just so hard and so sad.
 First Ski of the Year!
In university, one of my friends called me, weeping, on the phone one afternoon. She had been watching a show about death and dying and had just made the realization that everyone she knows, has known and will know is going to die–that she is going to die, and that death means forever for what we know of our present minds and consciousnesses. Do you remember when you made that realization? I think it happens later in life than most of us expect or remember. It usually happens when we experience the loss of someone close first hand as a pre-teen or teenager. Before high school, developmentally, it is very difficult to understand biologically and emotionally the ramifications of death. It is very difficult for young people and kids to understand the eternity and universality of dying. I also believe that something is lost in us in that realization. It is something we can’t get back
It is a realization that is made all over the world every day. Many developing minds made that revelation on Friday, and it breaks my heart to think of the loss. The loss is that of innocence both for the deceased and for those young ones who now are struggling with concepts of death. I imagine the feelings and questions are overwhelming for some kids. Why did this happen? What happened to the twenty kids that were killed? Do their souls really go to heaven? Are they reincarnated? If souls do go to heaven, will the soul of a six year old stay six or does age not matter? Do mommies and daddies recognize their kids when they die, too? When and how am I going to die? This is really big stuff for really little people.
Moose Watching
This makes me think of my students, all of them six or seven. They are so beautiful, loving, curious, and full of wonder. They can also be impulsive, self-centered, and bossy; and I love them. They are amazing because they are children, and I don’t think any of them really understand what death means. For kids, the possibilities are truly endless. They are immortal, and while they dream of being old enough to drive or stay up past ten or make the personal decision to eat ice cream for dinner; they really just live in the present without any forethoughts of grief.
As a teacher of first and second grade students, I’ve gotten to experience, second hand, many loose teeth; I’ve had the pleasure of working mittens onto little hands; and I’ve seen children marvel at the warmth of a freshly laid egg. I’ve witnessed children making snow angels in the first dusting of snow, and I’ve seen them shudder, a bit fearful, during huge wind storms. I’ve wondered about what drives all boys, starting at about the age of five, to pick up and swing around any stick that crosses their path. I’ve pondered why girls love to create alternative identities for themselves, often as a group identity. These are both most likely a result of having unbridled, limitless imaginations in all they see and do.
Sometimes, I forget how young my students are, because we have good conversations about family relationships and how to fix some of the ills of society. Sometimes, they seem just like little adults. I already have visions of what they will be like as adults. They are young, though, and their youth is infectious. I’ve been taking care of and teaching kids since I was a kid myself. I started as a baby sitter at age twelve, then graduated into full time nanny status. Later, I worked as a naturalist at a nature center, teaching kids ages two to twelve. Then, I worked as a teacher in Korea. Five (and a half! The half is extremely important) years ago, my brother had his first kid, and I became an aunt. I am now the proud aunt of two incredible young ladies. Being an aunt is awesome. Kids are awesome. Sometimes it seems like all of my learning is kid focused–I either learned it myself as a kid, I learned it presently from a kid, or I’ve learned it in order to teach kids.
Nola, my niece!
Last Monday was the last day of Farm School for the year, and I had taken a big sigh of relief that I was off teacher duty for a while. But on Friday, when I didn’t know what to do; and I felt helpless, infuriated and scared, I decided to thank the stars and the moon and the universe for the wonderful children in my life. While I don’t have kids of my own yet, the genuine love I have for all of these kiddos assures me that the love parents have for their kids is indescribable.
I was lucky enough, today, to see a few of my students and give them big hugs. Maybe, one day, they will realize how special they are; but for now big hugs will do. I don’t know what their parents have or have not discussed with them, I just want them to know that they are loved and that they are safe and that the possibilities are endless.
I genuinely love and appreciate my students every day, but the Sandy Hook tragedy made it so much more visceral and necessary. I would not be who I am today without the constant presence of kids in my life. Of course there is the vocation side of things–I usually teach kids, my career choice is pretty kid-centric. But it is more. My emotional, mental and physical health are all fairly fine largely due to kids in my life. I run around playing games with kids, I lift kids up to see into the chicken coop, I give piggy back rides to the tired kids who just-can’t-take-one-more-step, I’ve cried while reading sad books in front of kids and, in turn, been comforted by them, and I’m learning how to explain complex issues to kids with the most clarity I can muster. Of course, there are days that aren’t very good at all…but the good and great definitely outweigh the bad.
My Niece and God Daughter, Carolyn. She is a super baby–double liver transplant survivor!
I know there are tragedies every day, in every state and every country. I know that millions of children don’t get half of the lives they deserve. I know that our country (and by association, myself) is responsible for the senseless loss of children’s lives in places where we are spreading “freedom.” I know that children the world over are forced to do atrocious things every day. This makes it all the more pertinent to appreciate and support all of the kids we know in every moment we are able.
The future just has to be better than the present, right? If the kids I know today are making up our future tomorrows, then the future is golden. We just need to keep the ball rolling in that direction.
Sorry this is a long one, Farmgirls–but thank you for reading! It does help to write it out, to find the best words, and to flow from devastation to gratefulness to resolve. Please give a hug to any and all small things and small people in your life for me!
Sending you peace and love from snowy Alaska,
Alex, the Rural Farmgirl

  1. Joan says:

    You share a very poignant message, from your heart and it made my heart jump. Teachers are so very important in our children’s lives – whether it be in a school setting or in life. I am going in to my grandsons school today to help decorate for their Christmas party tomorrow, just being with all those lovely beings makes one know that life is so precious and it is a joy to share it with them. Thanks for being a REAL TEACHER, God Bless and Merry Christmas.

  2. Jan says:

    Wonderful job, Alexandra. This piece flowed from your heart and we are privileged to have been able to share it.
    Thank you…

  3. Adrienne says:

    Thank you for sharing your feelings about the tragedy. I’m much older than you are and I remember the first time I heard about a victim of gunshots. We were told to go home from school on November 22, 1963, and be with our families because the President had been shot. It was the first time I saw a nun cry and there was complete silence on the streets of my neighborhood because everyone was home watching the TV. I was 15 and my brother was 9; my sister 4. We understood what happened but I don’t think my siblings really grasped the fact of death. We played with cap pistols and pretended we were cowboys or Zorro or Wyatt Earp. Pretend death was different: the President wouldn’t get up off the floor and appear on a different program tomorrow.

    I hope the survivors receive all the psychological help they need and the support of their neighbors and friends.

  4. Nicki says:

    It is a gift to be able to put to words what leaves so many of us speechless. I recently moved to a rural area in Washington state (Okanogan Highlands) – in part because I was tired of the stress and craziness of the city. One of the beauties of the internet is that we can discover others of like minds and hearts. We can share virtual hugs to comfort and, in turn, be comforted. Thank you for your words today.

  5. Debbie says:

    Dear Alex,
    Thank you for writing, even when you felt you couldn’t. Thank you for sharing a large part of who you are with us…You are a seed planter, a nurturer, a teacher. You understand the preciousness and value in children and in being a child. You are a blessing and those are some lucky kids in your top photo! Keep up the ‘good ‘ work… the world needs more like you working with kids!
    Love and farmgirl hugs from the beach farmgirl!

  6. Cassie says:

    Alex- beautifully written. So eloquently stated, as you always are able to do. Thank you for sharing. Those neices are too beautiful! You are loved! Jon and I can’t wait to see your beautiful face again.

  7. Marilyn says:

    Dear Alex:
    I, too, want to thank you for writing this essay. I have been struggling with understanding the Sandy Hook incident and am a strong proponent of restricting the sale of assault rifles. Your quote of the poem of Wendell Berry touched me greatly. I have several grandchildren in elementary school and I remember when I was in third grade and President Kennedy was shot. I cannot imagine the pain and grief of the entire town and especially the families whose children were killed. I pray that in the New Year something is done to alleviate the uncontrollable use of weapons of mass destruction. I feel that people have the right to protect themselves and to have handguns and shotguns for hunting food. However, only the military should have the equipment needed to protect our country. God bless you and the feelings that you have expressed concerning your love of your students. It is evident that you are a tremendous teacher. Teachers are great people and they do a great job. Thank you again.

  8. Suzanne says:

    This is such a beautiful message from your heart Alex. Your students have all been lucky to have you as a teacher. You have and will profoundly touch many lives. Sorrows like the horrific shooting, and CJ’s need for new livers, and your brother Evan’s early death form us and make us who we are. Keep making sure that these sorrows make your heart get softer with the punches they deliver, rather than hardened and less able to feel and love.

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