Thursday, December 19, 2013

Write on!

When I was a teacher at Greenwood Elementary School in the nineties, I was blessed to have worked for an incredible principal, Mr. George Baker.  A consummate professional in every sense of the word, there was nothing Mr. Baker would ask of his staff that he was not willing to do (or had already done) himself.  I've known him for twenty-five years, and since Mr. Baker retired and I moved on from the classroom, there has been no one in my life quite like him, for his strength of character is something rare and genuine.  Something I aspire to daily.
Yes, Mr. Baker was darn near perfect...except for one little thing:  his handwriting was nearly illegible for most of the staff.  But not for me.
Every morning when I arrived at Greenwood and checked in at the office, there was a hand-written morning message from Mr. Baker that let us know the news of the day.  More often than not, I was called back to the office to decipher Mr. Baker's seemingly-encrypted code.  And every time, I was able to do so with ease.
"I teach first grade," I once said to someone.  "I'm used to wobbly letters and having to get into the right side of my brain to understand what he's trying to say."

There's a box in my basement filled with cards and letters and pictures and stories written by my students during the eleven years I spent teaching little ones.  I have saved letters from parents and even a "welcome to our family" adoption certificate from one of my kids who signed his name in beautiful script.  What a joy and a gift to lift the lid and revisit happy memories.  To read the invented spelling.  To remember the gap-toothed smiles when each child presented me with his/her creation.
How sad it is to hear that schools no longer have the time to teach handwriting skills, as teachers must comply to the demands of testing and ever-changing concepts of how children learn best.  Make no mistake...I value the speed and ease of email.  I learned how to type when I was in second grade and oh, what fun to BANG, BANG, BANG on that old Smith Corona!  When I learned how to use a word processor, I felt like a bird being released from a cage.  What a freedom to finally have a tool that could keep up with the speed of the words that passed through my imagination.
But...I journal by hand and write thank you notes and cards I still send through snail mail.  Writing by hand not only slows me down, it allows me to personalize a gift, a gesture of goodwill, a kindness with something that is uniquely my own.  
When my grandmother died, my mom gave me a stack of letters all tied up with a ribbon.  "We found this in Grammy's desk drawer, Kate," she said.
There in my hands was every single letter I had ever written to her...from the early 1970's through my college years and beyond.  I brought them home and then, after pulling out a stack of all the letters and cards she had written to me, I put them in order by the postmark and spend a bittersweet weekend reading about her life...my life...and all that two lives can experience over the course of a few decades. 
I don't hold on to much around here anymore, but those letters and handwritten gifts from my "kids" are sacred.

Just this past week as I finished up a fall session of Yoga for Kids classes at a local Montessori school, two of the moms handed me envelopes and said, "My daughter wrote this for you, but I don't know what it is."
One of the first-grade moms smiled, "Hannah went up to her room and wrote this at her desk...she was very focused and didn't want me to see it.  She said it was just for you."
I was honored to open a lovely envelope (decorated with silver stars!) and read a carefully written note thanking me for a scarf I had given Hannah and all the fun things we do in yoga class.  It brought tears to my eyes...literally.
The other little one had drawn me an elaborate picture complete with a princess (front and center), a prince, a knight and a wicked queen.  "This is the story of Princess Leo," Lia explained. 
"Oh, wow!  It's great!" I beamed.  "Only one thing is missing...will you sign your name?  All artists sign their work...and you're a real artist."
Lia took a pen from my hand and carefully scribed L....I....A, shyly smiling all the while.
Satish and Danta have written me little notes this month too, and all of them are proudly displayed on my refrigerator.  Sometimes when I'm cooking, I'll stop and touch the places where their little hands have been.  I re-read their messages of thanks, of happiness, of delight. 
Just yesterday I received a Christmas card from Mr. Baker in which he wrote a very kind and sweet personal note.  Even now...twenty-odd years later, I can still read every single word.  As a writer myself, I intrinsically know the power of the pen...and pencil...and crayon which often express what words cannot. 
No matter how it arrives in my hands...it always goes straight to my heart.