Starfish

Last week I read the award-winning piece “Failure Factories,” a haunting indictment of a few local policy decisions that drastically changed the learning environments of the constituents’ children. I’ve been watching Boston go through a funding crisis this year, and I can’t but help think that maybe people just don’t know. People don’t know what happens in schools. People think that my school can handle a budget cut, that public school budgets are elastic things. People pretend policy doesn’t affect us, that it doesn’t really change anything.

All of us vote for presidents– who have very little impact on our day to day existence– but far too many of us can’t take the time to vote in local and state elections for the people who actually decide what happens to our children every day. Policy matters. Local policy matters.

Starfish

Sometimes you care too much.
Too much of the world has turned its back
and there aren’t enough of us,
and there are too many of them,
and they are hurting too much
and sometimes,
because you can see them,
And the rest of the world has
headphones in, windows up, wheels under them, and vacation plans,
you have to carry too much.

The worries of too many children
have spilled open on the shore
and are bleeding out.
“You are cutting them off at the knees,” she wrote,
calling into a muffled abyss where no one would hear,
and I could not help but think of my students,
cut down to their knees,
crying out in pain,
bleeding from the horror;
I wonder if the image is terribly far off.
I teach with this sort of desperation.

I wonder if I, like Obama, will be gray soon.

Horror sometimes is a silent, slow, and subtle thing.

First it is the art classes that disappear,
then the extra janitor,
then the extra nurse and a few of the buses after school,
then the new set of books gets delayed a year,
a few sports teams get cut,
then the copy paper starts to dwindle,
you haven’t had new books in years,
then the rest of the after school program vanishes,
and your two favorite teachers.
Then only half of a nurse is left,
and the library is closed,
the building is dustier, dirtier, never quite clean
only a quarter of a nurse drowning in paperwork
–they are all drowning in paperwork–
the laptops more often being fixed than functional
no latches left on windows,
no repairs for leaking ceilings,
book bindings crusting off,
heaters whose jobs were long forgotten,
unsupervised hallways, understaffed classes,
bored children, crowded rooms, misbehavior,
perfectly meet-able needs going unmet,
the haggard looks on adults’ faces: it’s
too many children, and only a few of us left to
carry them.

You cannot save them all, he said of the starfish.
He gave no moral guidelines for when starfish are not starfish at all but are children.
He kept silent on that subject.

When the good samaritan came by
there was only one bleeding man on the side of the road.
But what was he supposed to do if there were hundreds?
Jesus didn’t answer all my unasked questions.

It is one thing when you live in a world where you are asked for only one good deed, one acknowledgement of neighborliness.
It is another thing entirely when you live in a world where crisis is a norm, where children are unwanted, where children are caretakers, where children are desperate, where children are hurting, where children have only ever fallen through cracks.
Are children our neighbors?

What am I to do with all the starfish?
I haven’t got enough hands.
I haven’t got enough heart.

 

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