Every Wednesday, I volunteer at my kids’ school. I spend most of my time there in the cafeteria, because — thanks to our state’s chronic (and criminal) funding challenges — our food service manager doesn’t have the resources she needs to do her job well.
I never look forward to my volunteer days — there are always 100 other things I should (or would rather) be doing — but I usually enjoy them. This is because my kids’ school is awesome. The student body is extremely diverse, and each classroom reflects that diversity* (a rarity in this proudly progressive city). The staff is also diverse, and is one of the most committed and conscientious groups of people I have ever had the privilege to know. Despite innumerable challenges — inadequate funding, oppressive (and often incompetent) district bureaucracy, too many tests — they do everything in their power to build a supportive community and provide a well-rounded, enriching education to all of our kids.
But back to Wednesdays.
On Wednesday, November 9th, the first day of the New Reality, I really did not feel up for volunteering. I forced myself — and my kids — through the motions of getting ready for the day, but as the three of us walked to school, I was overwhelmed with despair. It was a heaviness I had never felt before, even in my worst moments of grief.
When we arrived, the blacktop was filled with kids laughing and running and playing. Some were huddled in small groups, discussing the results of the election, but most were simply enjoying their last moments of morning recess, as they do every morning. The bell rang, and they lined up by classroom. Teachers walked out of the building to greet them, many wearing our school’s Black Lives Matter t-shirts. Then everyone headed inside for another day of learning.
I made my way to the kitchen, where our wonderful cafeteria manager was hard at work unloading the “keeper” with the next day’s meals. I washed my hands, donned an apron, and began rinsing and chopping the daily fresh produce snack.** When I finished, it was time for first lunch.
I spent the next few hours serving meals to hundreds of precious children of all colors, faiths, backgrounds, and abilities; hugging teachers who give so much to help those children learn; and watching our beautiful, imperfect community make it through the challenge of another delightful, chaotic, too-short lunch period.
The heaviness started to lift.
After lunch, while I wiped tables and listened to the music class practice songs on the cafeteria stage,*** I realized that we are all still here, doing the work we have always done. We can still connect, and serve, and build. We can still take care of each other. We can still love.
This is not some cop-out platitude post to suggest that we can fix the problems in our country by “being nice” — or to encourage folks to forget about politics in favor of more pleasant subjects. On the contrary, “politics” will have a tremendous impact on the children I serve every Wednesday; indeed, it already has.
Now, more than ever, we have an obligation to vocally and actively and with all the resources at our disposal, advocate for a just and sustainable country and world. But to do that, we must start where we are. And we must remember who we are. I am honored to be part of a community that does both.
* This is a relatively recent development. A couple of years ago, the school community made the decision to move from two programs to one. It was a bold and courageous move (one that I will probably talk about in a future post). We still have plenty of challenges, but it has made all the difference.
** This exists at our school only because a parent who is very passionate about nutrition identified the program and raised the money to pay for it.
*** Our (part-time) music teacher does not have a classroom.