Yesterday marked one year to the day since the Boston marathon bombing. I did not want to acknowledge it, or think about it. I didn’t want to hear the news stories play over and over again, see the traumatizing pictures. I didn’t want to think about how gut-wrenchingly awful this day was. I sure didn’t plan to bring it up with my class.
The kids had other ideas. The week before, a few asked me if we were going to do anything to mark the date. I gave vague answers, explaining that not everyone would be comfortable with it. The bombing happened early in a week long vacation last year, so by the time we came back to school, they had had time to process it, and it wasn’t as immediate. Plus, last year they were third graders. This year, fourth. The same kids that were not completely aware of what happened then were now acutely aware of the anniversary.
“Can we do something good?” One asked me last week. I asked her to explain. “It was so bad, what happened. Shouldn’t we do something good, to balance it out?”
That hit me. I have a responsibility to these kids, to help them navigate this sometimes scary world and their place in it. After asking the class parents for their opinion, I decided to ask the class what they wanted to do. I figured it would be something like raise money, or write letters.
One of the first suggestions came from one of my very thoughtful boys. “Can we plant something?” He asked. The class loved this idea. Plants, they reasoned, were the ultimate way of giving back. They were good for the planet, the atmosphere, the ecosystem. Go figure, we had a shipment of baby pine trees donated by an Arbor Day foundation that I had completely forgotten about! We decided to plant our trees in the woods behind the school. Not as a memorial, not a place to remember the dead and injured, but just out among the existing trees. Just an act of positive.
After this discussion, the class went to music. One child hung back, and as soon as the class left she collapsed into my arms, crying. The trees, she explained, reminded her of the memorial to Martin Richards she had seen. The youngest of the bombings victims, he was only 8, and his sweet face was everywhere in the days following. I had cried hardest, I think for him. He was the same age as my students.
This fact hit hard for the little girl sobbing in my arms, as well. She explained she couldn’t stop thinking about it after she saw the tree hung with ribbons and beads, with stuffed animals underneath. Planting trees reminded her of it all over again. She apologized for crying, and I told her not only was it ok to cry, that I felt like crying, too. “Is it ok if I cry a little?” I asked her. She nodded.
So I held her while we both sat in the classroom, tears running down our faces. We cried for Martin, Krystle, Lingzi, Sean, for everyone injured, for the sense of safety that had been shattered, for the act of evil that tore apart a beautiful April day.
Then we both felt a little better. We talked about emphasizing the positive. Planting the trees would not be a solemn act of remembrance- that was certainly important, but not what we wanted to focus on. It would be a chance to go outside, be with our classroom community, and give back to nature. To celebrate the good in our world.
The next day we went outside into gusts of wind and rain. We climbed over the stone wall, and dug holes in the leaf covered forest floor, using plastic spoons and sharing one rusty trowel. We got covered in mud, and our feet got wet. The kids lovingly found spots for their little saplings, and implored the rain to keep their trees nice and wet. They sang, they laughed, they threw sticks, they flipped rocks and found salamanders. They were kids, being kids, in a world that can sometimes be scary, sometimes be sad, sometimes be so goddamned awful it makes the adults want to pull the curtains and never leave the house.
I took a lot of pictures. The best is of two of my girls, arms around each other, heads thrown back in laughter and song. They’re kicking their legs in unison, can can style. One holds a Red Sox umbrella, with the Boston B front and center. It’s perfect.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again- you can’t lose hope when you work with kids. They won’t let you.