Posted by: Patti Dickinson | 06/27/2015

Gratitude and a pair of shabby shoes


63310452My young friend at school came up to me yesterday, in his breathless, this-can’t-wait-one-more-minute excitement.

“GUESS WHAT?” Before I could even say anything, he continued, looking at me like it was incomprehensible to him that I couldn’t come up with the “what” fast enough.

“New…….shoes.” Emphasis on the “new” part. His declaration was cutely smug, self-satisfied, with the barest hint of a smile, anticipating from me a verbal explosion of compliments.

I didn’t disappoint. “Wow. I mean, those are terrific. You middle schoolers sure like your shoes. I love the lime green doo-dad on the sides.”

“Know where I got them? In a dumpster.” Pride was all over his face at his find. But to this young man, where he got these beauties made not one bit of difference. Shoe store, someone else’s discards? Didn’t matter. He continued, lifting his foot high enough that he could turn his foot so I could see the bottom of the shoe. “They’re sort of worn out on the bottom, but aren’t they cool?”

The shoe bottom was almost completely worn through, held together by this black spongy stuff, and was thin enough to be able to see through the shoe to the bottom of his foot.

Twelve years old. Inner city kid. Used to doing without. Already skilled in gratitude, in appreciation, being happy with what he’s got, his resourcefulness — making something out of well —- nothing.

This kid is my buddy. He struts around school swinging a black lawn and leaf size trash bag with empty aluminum pop cans inside. Teachers save cans for him. The kids are pretty impressed with his industry. He turns those cans in for cash for his family to help put food on the table.

We’ve walked this uncertain pilgrimage together, he and I. A sixth grader, reluctant, scared, now in middle school. Withdrawn, his anxiety getting in the way of him attempting to find a groove, a place to fit. In September, he would discretely get out of the lunch line and hide under the stairwell, cowering like a wounded animal, afraid of the noise, the potential of being bullied in the lunchroom. Then his gaze was a mixture of scared to death and lost. He needed someone in his corner, someone who he could depend on in this chaotic mix of sixth, seventh and eighth grade kids. A gentle kid. So very fragile.

He spent some time with me in my alternative classroom. He never was a discipline problem, he was with me more for the purposes of eliminating a lot of the distractions of the regular classroom so he could get his work caught up. But academics and curriculum aside, he needed a place to find where he fit. Where he could learn at his own pace, in his own time, in his own way, how he was going to manage and negotiate the next three years. A soft place to land. So we chipped away at the fear and steered him away from the behaviors that made him a bull’s eye for the bullies — his demeanor and body language.

When he went back to his regular classroom schedule, he would stop in and get a hug when he was close to my room. Our school social worker, who is intuitive, gentle and knows her stuff, arranged for him to be able to choose a friend and come to my room each with their lunch tray, and get 15 minutes of computer time, before returning to class. Before our eyes, his confidence soared. He didn’t stutter, in the figurative sense through his day. But head held high, new shoes and aluminum cans, in a bag, bouncing and clanging behind him.

You bet I believe in miracles.

Dedicated to CBB and TE

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