I was not really hungry at all. I had to eat quickly for a Friday with a no-planning period and a 30-minute Friday lunch while prepping for my two remaining classes. The warmed-in-a-microwave Papa John cheesy breadsticks from last Monday and softball-sized orange were both good. I was swallowing the last of the cold coffee in my Kindness mug when the sound of enthusiastic chaos began making its way to my door.
Paxton and John were the first to arrive. They had these broad smiles on their faces, the devious smiles that would have instilled teacher trepidation and tension at the beginning of the year when I barely knew these kids. Now, though? Either one of their friends said something idiotic at lunch, or another friend got in trouble again. Even though I feigned indifference over their juvenile adventures, I needed to know deep down. The anticipation was eating away at me.
Paxton chuckled as he reached behind his back. "Here, White Rabbit." He tossed a big plastic bag of carrots right in the middle of my desk.
My eyes watered at the hilarity of all of this. I grasped the arms of my chair to keep myself from falling onto the floor in laughter. I am seldom at a loss for words, but my laughter prevented me from saying anything as all three of us just kept laughing and laughing while the rest of the class continued to come into the room. I finally cleared my throat to say, "Thanks, Pax. This really made my day. I needed this."
They both regaled me of how the crew gathered up the carrots from the cafeteria lunch to stuff them in a plastic bag they would drop on my desk. More students continued to enter the room as they did this, discovering the carrots and laughing. I wanted to call it a day right then, like a mic drop, a perfect way to end a chaotic week.
Context, though. Moments like this need context.
My classes had been reading Matthew Quick's Boy21 for a week. Not everyone is a great reader; not everyone has the patience to invest time and energy into the characters in a book. As a teacher, I never know how a class will respond to a book we will read or a project we will undertake.
The book's narrator is Finley, a quiet senior whose basketball coach has asked to befriend a new student named Russell, who has moved from California to Boston after losing his parents to a senseless murder. Finley is the only white player on the basketball team, so his teammates jokingly call him "White Rabbit." Kids sometimes like to play around with their friends and teammates, so Finley is initially fine when the cafeteria students dump uneaten carrots on his tray during lunch while saying, "Here you go, White Rabbit." Unfortunately, this act becomes a joke that borders on torment.
Quick takes the reader on a journey of three people: Finley, Russ, and Finley's girlfriend Erin, who learn to cope with life's painful struggles. Together the three learn the importance of connection and the necessity of having people who understand and honestly care about one another in our lives.
As I said earlier, the bag of carrots was a perfect way to end the week. I could have packed up, turned the lights, and then headed home. But my class just had to read the book, and they insisted on going outside to the sunny courtyard to do so. It was hot, the kids tend to be crazy, and the courtyard lacks the control I need for a class. I usually absolutely hate making little trips like this.
"Let's go. Bring your books and be quiet in the halls."
We sat on the courtyard steps in the bright afternoon sunlight with the ambient noise of the water fountain around us. We took turns reading the next few chapters. We did our "Did you notice..." or "I wonder why..." discussion starters. Different people sat on different levels of the stairs, some squinted in the sunlight while some covered their eyes with the book, but all of us shared thoughts about Finley, Russ, and Erin. Time wound down, and everyone seemed to want to read one more chapter before making the long walk back to the room.
So why did I laugh when the carrots landed on my desk? Why did I say that the bag of carrots made my day? Why did I so willingly take a trip outside with a class when I never do that? I have been pondering this for a while.
I keep seeing posts on Twitter and Facebook about teachers leaving the profession to find something else to do or to begin their retirement. I keep wondering how much longer I can do this. My neck and arm are so sore from reading papers and typing on the computer that I have taken to wearing a brace once again this spring. I am tired of a non-stop schedule of classes and activities that always transforms into a sprint at the end of the year, one which takes me weeks to recover. I am tired of finding it harder to enjoy life once the school day ends. I get it, though. I chose to teach, and I will never regret it.
Unfortunately, I appear to have grown accustomed to doubt. I wonder if what I do makes any kind of impact anymore. I wonder if anyone ever listens anymore. I wonder if I am past my prime and am awaiting a resurgence of energy that may never come. I wonder if my body can actually hold together much longer as I empty the latest bottle of Tylenol. I wonder if my doubt will ever overwhelm the good moments, and I wonder what I will do when that time comes.
So why did the bag of carrots mean so much?
God occasionally speaks to us through the actions of others. He lets us know when our path is correct and when it may be time to rest. Through others, He tells us when we still have a purpose and that our influence on the world may be one that the world continues to need. And sometimes, God tells us through a random bag of carrots that everything will be okay.
So, yeah. "Thanks for the carrots. These really made my day."
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