“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”
Packed away somewhere in my attic is a small green glass pitcher with “Mineloa Fair” embossed in gold letters on the front. My grandmother gave this pitcher to me years ago, telling me that on the day she got it, in 1908 when she was four years old, she saw an airplane for the first time.
More than a century later, I spent a week in Northern Virginia at my son’s house, which is directly under the flight path for planes landing at Dulles Airport. It was late April and spring was in full bloom, so I went for a walk to enjoy the weeping cherry and magnolia trees. As I headed back toward my son’s house, I realized that the number of planes flying over had increased dramatically. Curious, I started counting. Soon ten planes had passed over in a very short period of time. I started timing them. There seemed to be as little as thirty seconds in between planes. By the time I was back to the house, I’d counted at least forty planes. What miracle had occurred in just over the one hundred years between the time my grandmother was awed by a biplane on the meadows of central Long Island and that spring morning when dozens of jets flew over my head in a matter of minutes?
I haven’t flown a lot in my lifetime. But over the past year, it seems as if I’ve been on a plane at least once a month. Now that I’m more comfortable with the routine of flying, I hate to look like I don’t know what I’m doing, especially if I’m alone. So, not long ago, I settled into my seat and waited for takeoff, trying to seem blasé about the whole thing. Then I remembered my grandmother at that fair all those years ago. What wonder she must have felt! How could she even imagine flying in an airplane! I glanced around at my fellow passengers and saw people sending off last minute emails or reading intently. Some were already asleep. The miracle of flight had definitely become commonplace to them. I decided to find the extraordinary in what has become for many an ordinary experience.
I decided to be present for this marvelous feat of human ingenuity. Here I was, sitting in a metal tube that was about to hurl itself into the sky, defy gravity, and take me halfway across the country in about the same amount of time it took my grandmother and her family to travel from their home in Little Neck to Mineola and back. I watched as the labyrinth of runways and hangars whisked past. And I felt that indescribable moment when the wheels of the plane left the ground, that microsecond of disequilibrium as the earth fell away and the plane climbed into the astral blue sky.
Today is Reading to the Core’s fourth anniversary. Not a particularly noteworthy milestone, but one which I wanted to acknowledge and reflect upon. Much has changed in education and in our country over the past four years. The demands on teachers are greater than ever, and it’s often a challenge to keep the human face of our students in front of us as we try to meet those demands. But that is what we must do. And we must find ways to help our students find the extraordinary in the ordinary, to be present for the day-to-day wonders that surround us, just like my grandmother was all those years ago. This is my ongoing challenge.
I’m not sure what my expectations were that snowy Saturday four years ago when I finally gathered up the courage to hit the “publish” button. Whatever they were, I know my wildest dreams have been exceeded. I’ve met people and become friends with teachers and writers from around the world. I’ve discovered things about myself, both as a teacher and a person, and have grown in countless ways. Most importantly, I’m much better at paying attention to the world and the people around me.
Thank you for being part of this journey with me. I look forward to many more years of wonder and discovery with you.