At the risk of being considered overly sentimental this holiday season, I
must share a story that reminded me of the delights one often finds in daily life. I used
to seek out only the most dramatic occasions to celebrate, but I have learned to find
instead those moments every day that nourish me. So, in a segment that should be on Oprah,
let me explain.
On Halloween day, I donned silk scarves, set a night-light beneath a large
round glass bowl, and slipped into my role as Josefina Elenita Collinski, fortune teller.
As most of you know, I work at an elementary school and encounter there the different
world views of small human beings. It is a constant source of surprise and joy. Whenever I
am feeling "off," I am reassured by the certainly that during my eight-hour day
some special soul will come up with a phrase or action that stirs within me a positive
response. Its hard to remain rigid or stuffy when surrounded by energetic children.
My stint as a seer was no exception: I had great fun wrapping my window in
black, turning off the lights and calling in children one at a time to hold their tiny
hands and read their palms. I used a magnifying glass to "see" the lines on
their hands more clearly.
Of course, I dont claim to have any special powers, and I believe
everyone involved took my charade as a game. Another caveat: I only gave positive and very
general fortunes. You see, I still recall the prediction of a hired palmist at my high
school senior all-night party. She said Id live to be very old but have lots of
illnesses along the way. In retrospect, I find that kind of prediction inappropriate for
one setting out on the adventures of emerging adulthood. Actually, Ive been rather
healthy, thank God, and I dont think much about the "really old" part. My
point in this recollection is that some superstitious corner of my personality fixed that
information deep in my mind. Of all the words I heard that year, only those remain.
Therefore, I felt responsible to be upbeat. Im certainly not
interested in exposing vulnerable young minds to negative possibilities. Im not
sadistic! I also wanted my fortunes to vary for each student, and I was careful about the
way children interpret statements literally. There was, for example, the kindergartner who
returned to class unhappy when I told him hed live to be a happy old man. He told
his teacher, "I dont want to be an old man," probably picturing himself as
burdened with a long white beard and stooped posture for the remainder of his days! By the
end of the day I began to run thin on witty age-appropriate forecasts, and in the process
began to wax rather more philosophical than I had intended.
Thus, when an especially sweet third grade boy came by at the tail end of
my operations, I found myself noting his very deep (in pudgy hands) heart line as a sign
he "felt deeply" about important things. Then I caught myself embellishing this
simple observation: he would find, I noted, that this heart line would "feed"
his lifeline in a wonderful way because he would care about the "right" things,
not be hateful or spiteful. I almost pulled back from the exercise to laugh at myself for
my pompous, pedantic solemnity. However, I glanced over at him, and saw he was staring
intently at me. A pause. He looked into my heavily mascaraed eyes and solemnly said, as
though to reassure me, "Im a very good person." I wanted to capture that
For here, indeed, was a true example of the innocence and openness of the
young. And, yes, he is, by the way, a very good boy. Ive never seen him aggressive,
rude, or hostile. But what I loved most was his own self-knowledge, so pure. This is why I
enjoy experiencing the lives of children.
I believe that people more often than not live up to the positive
expectations loving mentors have for them. But how wonderful at such a young age to have
an expectation molded by ones own positive self-concept. Garrison Kellor says
humorously of Lake Woebegone, that all the children there are "above average."
We, too, can find something wonderful in every child.
According to a piece in the Nov. 6 Time magazine by Roger
Rosenblatt, psychologist Jerome Bruner asserts that "children acquire language to
tell the stories that are in them." If that is so, then the boy who informed me of
his goodness used his language to convey his own story -- one he understands already in a
most precocious way. I hope his self-story, his decency, is unchanged as he ages.
How many of us, after lifes vicissitudes and challenges, can look in
the mirror and see a "really good person?" Can I even say that just for today --
one day -- I was a really good person, without any rationalizations or excuses? None of
us, of course, is untarnished, but being reminded that underneath our layers of error
resides a fundamentally decent person cant hurt as we try to be our best.
Thanks for the children.