Yesterday’s news from the school in Connecticut was desperately tragic and difficult to comprehend. Over the lunch hour I left my downtown Portland office to breathe, walk, and look for signs of goodness. The stores and shoppers were all in holiday attire, yet law enforcement dressed in black were everywhere. Maybe their presence was related to the tragedy on the East coast, I do not know.The messages on the big tree at Pioneer Courthouse Square struck me as odd and out of place on this day.The break in the clouds above the bleak bricks was fleeting, but welcome. A group of women was protesting crimes against humanity, a message that seemed strangely on point.Many volunteers from the Rotary Club were out raising money for the Salvation Army. This gentleman’s smile truly warmed the entire street corner.We Wish You a Merry Christmas was played here with as much merriment as as they could muster, I think:These folks offered a lighthearted rendition of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Maybe they had not heard the news, or maybe they just wanted to provide some cheer. I sang along, loudly, and in community.But right now, I want to remember the day before yesterday. Early that morning, before work, I stopped for coffee at Baker & Spice in Hillsdale. A group there was celebrating the Christmas holiday together, exchanging gifts, laughing, talking. I asked to take their picture: These women are all current or retired teachers and staff at Ainsworth Elementary School in Southwest Portland. Collectively, Debbie, Joan, Louise, Lynn, and Sherri have worked with Ainsworth children and families for over 100 years. For the last 15 years, they have regularly met for early morning coffee. Joan, a retired primary teacher, wrote, “we all love the friendship and support from years of bonding.”
I asked Joan for her thoughts about yesterday’s events: So very sad. PPS has been pro-active in planning for all kinds of emergency events. The teachers, support staff and children are all well-practiced. That said, it doesn’t prepare any one of us for the scope of this tragedy. Being retired should make me feel at a distance. It doesn’t. Turning off media has helped, and touching base with loved ones has offered solace.
I am grateful for the sense of caring and friendship these women brought to the coffee shop on Thursday morning. And I am grateful to them for their years of work with our children. Today this blog gives me a small way to pay tribute to students, families, and teachers, and to remember the power of community, love, and hope. I value this thought from author and historian Howard Zinn: I can understand pessimism, but I don’t believe in it. It’s not simply a matter of faith, but of historical evidence. Not overwhelming evidence, just enough to give hope, because for hope we don’t need certainty, only possibility.