I have mentioned before that I spend 30 minutes each week reading to first graders in a school near our home.
I thought of those little guys as I was driving across country last weekend—after I heard the horrible, horrible news about the shootings in Newtown, Conn.
I thought about the big smiles that always greet me when I walk into their room and how they wave to me as they gather around the rocking chair where I sit and read.
I recalled how eager they always are to learn about a new book or to listen again to one they’ve heard before. I thought about the wonder I see in their eyes when they learn something new about an earthworm, a spider or a whale. I remembered how they laugh when I read them one of the silly books they like the best. I remembered how they always look forward to the latest antics of Tacky the Penguin, perhaps their very favorite.
And I am always amused by how eager they are to participate, raising their hands to tell me what they liked about a book or how silly it is for a duck to ride a bicycle. And they just want to share things—what their little sister did or how they spent their weekend. And one little boy once asked me,” Where do you get your socks?”
I am always impressed at how quietly they sit—well mostly, they are first graders after all—and how well-behaved and respectful they are. I’m impressed with how patient and gentle their teacher is. With a look or a gentle reminder she gets them to sit straight, cross their legs and take their turns.
They always say, in unison, “Thank you, Mr. Smith, for reading to us.” And I always thank them for being such a good audience. The last time I read to them they had Christmas cards for me—the ones made out of construction paper and crayons with pictures of Christmas trees and jingle bells and some with a somewhat elderly man sitting in a rocking chair reading a book; some add hearts; they all, in first grade scrawls and sometimes creative spellings, tell me how much they enjoy my books and what a nis (sic) person I am for reading to them.
Sometimes, after I finish reading, one will give me a high five or hug me and say thanks.
I thought about how I never leave that classroom without a smile on my face and a warm place in my heart. I used to think I was doing this for the children, but after four years I realize who receives the greatest benefit.
These are sweet kids, six-year-old children. And I can’t begin to understand how anyone could hurt them. And Friday I thought about them. I could see them all, sitting, listening, laughing; and I understood that they were the same kids that were harmed in Newtown. And if I knew how to make sure that something that heinous never happens to these little guys, I’d certainly do it. Whatever it took.
But as I drove across country last Friday, about all I could do was bite down on my lower lip to keep from crying. It didn’t work.