In a Dirty Shirt
Richard was the boy in my first grade class who never had quite enough for lunch. He made his way to school alone along the back path on foot. He told stories no one believed, and he always wore the same wrinkled and stained shirt. Unless they had reason, the other kids left him alone.
Every morning as writing practice, I wrote a sentence starter on the board. The kids would copy it down. Then they’d finish the sentence with their own words and continue writing on. The language they wrote in, a special one called First Gradian, was one only they could decode, but the practice of putting a message in text was an important. So after they wrote, I asked each child to read his or her missive aloud.
On this morning, the sentence starter was What I really want is . . .
It was a big class for a first grade, and so there were many answers. One by one, the children came up to read their papers. They asked for a bike, a trip to the circus, a video game, the latest doll — all were innocent dreams of children with no worries. All except one.
Richard’s paper showed only more two words longer than those I had written down. He stood by my desk turned toward the group and read.
What I want is . . . a hug.
A child in the front came up and gave him one. Then came another. Soon a room of first graders was hugging each other.
Richard was brave and vulnerable. He knew what he needed, and he asked.
We can change the world — just like that.
–ME “Liz” Strauss