Thursday, December 8, 2016

"i'm not the only one..."

"You may say I'm a dreamer,
but I'm not the only one.
I hope some day you'll join us,
and the world will be as one..."

It always catches me off guard. Early December, gray skies flecked with spitting snow, John Lennon's "Imagine," playing on the radio.  This version by the Haverbrook Deaf Choir and the cast of Glee, is one of my favorites. It reminds me of that day, 26 years ago, when as a young teacher I wept in front of my students.

I was teaching at an state institution for children who had been diagnosed with severe or profound developmental disabilities, and had been made wards of the state by their parents. For many of these parents, this was a devastating decision, but seemed to be the only way they could secure the treatments and services their children needed. Families visited, but the longer their children were institutionalized, the less frequent their visits became.

As a faculty, we were constantly looking for ways to bring warmth and normalcy to our students' lives -- and to our own sense of what it meant to be a teacher in such a difficult setting. Holiday decorations, songs, and art projects were an important part of keeping us all motivated.

That year, someone suggested that we hold a Christmas pageant and concert. Our audience would be made up of the residential, medical, dining, and cleaning staff, but it gave us something to work towards and brought so much joy to our students. Our class was working on a singing and signing a song. We chose Silent Night and put many hours into learning every word and choreographing the dance of hands signing in time with the music.

On December 8th we added another song. The shattering news of John Lennon's assassination changed everything. John Lennon wasn't just a pop icon, or a rock star, he was someone we looked up to. His message of social responsibility and peace resonated deeply with a generation shaken by the Viet Nam war. His death was shocking.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I felt as if all my hopes for world peace and kindness had been left on that sidewalk in front of the Dakota on December 8th, 1980. I didn't know what to do. That was when it came to me -- like a mission -- to teach my students another song. We would sing and sign "Imagine."  For the rest of the month, I would go in to work early and stay late. We would rehearse, and rehearse, and rehearse -- and then we'd rehearse some more.

Some days we would find ourselves helping to form signs with the hands of individual students dozens of times an hour.  Moving arms and fingers into shapes. It seemed like an impossible thing to ask of these children, but I think they caught the spirit of our need to "do this."

On the night of the performance in the small auditorium that doubled as a gym, my kids performed Silent Night to our ragtag audience. They grinned when the applause burst from the folding chairs in front of them. I was concerned that all of the excitement would distract them from our surprise. But they were undeterred. Once the applause died down, they looked up at me, smiled and stood very, very tall in the party clothes we'd gathered from the donation bins.

Their performance was hauntingly beautiful that afternoon. I don't think anyone would have said that they could understand the words, or thought that the signing was in sync, but it was sincere, and beautiful, and moving. They had worked so hard to honor my love for this man, and this song. This is what I remember every December 8th, when the sky is steely gray and a recording of "Imagine" playing on the radio reminds me that I was once a very young teacher with very big dreams for a world where "all the people were living life in peace..."

I am still that girl -- I still believe that we are capable of laying aside hatred for brotherly love. I still believe in "peace on earth, good will to men." I still believe that in the end, only kindness matters -- but that's another song. This is where I am ageless. The hope I have for our world, the trust I have in Love's power to move hearts, the confidence I have in the goodness of humanity -- this is what is eternal for me. This is where I am both a child and a sage, a dreamer and a scientist, a peaceful warrior and a conscientious objector.

Yes, you may say that I'm a dreamer -- but I know that I am not the only one.

offered with hope,


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