When Mr. Decker died back in March here in town, I got to sit at the kitchen table at his house with members of his family while they told stories and looked through old photographs. Deck had lived here for many decades; he had a bunch of kids, a whole bunch of grandkids and really great wife. There were a lot of stories. And they made us all laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time.
I remember thinking during that time that the kitchen table might just be the greatest place on earth.
The last couple of days I woke up in an old schoolhouse in Hudson, New York. It was just like the one I went to first grade in, School No. 4, in Saratoga. It had really big windows and very high ceilings. Being there made me think about when I was a teacher and how much I loved those days, with the kids in my classes. I thought about this thing we had called The Invention Center, when I taught second grade at the Children's School at Emma Willard. It was full of broken appliances that the kids brought from home and then took apart. I assume they were all broken, though it is kind of funny to imagine one of my second graders swiping the toaster on the way out the door. The kids really loved The Invention Center. I put a bunch of tools and other things for them to work with there. Once, I put a microscope on the table, thinking they might want to look at some stuff up close. By the time I got to the other side of the room it was in pieces.
I know a little about some of my former students because I've stayed in touch with their moms. One is working on a PhD. in cellular and molecular biology at the University of Vermont. Another is a sea captain. Another is a highly-accomplished Marine, whose mother sent me this message yesterday about her son: As a mother, when you look back at the history, you can see how everything was interwoven and almost laid out in a heavenly fashion, to unfold. That's precisely why lucky you got this wild child in your 2nd grade class - it was all part of "the plan."
I'd like to think that it was things like the Invention Center that gave these magnificent adults (my second graders are 30 years old now) a leg-up in life, but that might be just a touch egomaniacal of me. I do think this: I think that we can never know the impact we're going to have on a person's life. We can know them for a day, for a few months, for a school year, for decades, it doesn't matter; often we don't know, until all is said and done, just how deeply we've left our imprint on the life of another.
We sit, in our families, and with our friends, around the kitchen table, and we share meals and stories. We come together in classrooms and learn things and break things and rebuild things. We fall in and out of love; we have kids, raise them and then launch them. We run into people we know getting a cup of coffee. We make conversation with a stranger on an airplane. We really don't know. We might make no impression at all. Or, we might mean so much to someone that we rearrange their cells, even as we send them on their way, wherever they are going next.
It's good to keep that in mind.
The schoolhouse where I was staying was surrounded by a huge cemetery, front and back: grave markers as far as the eye could see. It's how we travel in this life: from classroom to grave. I think we should hope a really great hope along the way: that the people who have known us will sit around a kitchen table and talk about us and laugh and cry when we are dead. Amen.