Small, Powerful Moments

A memorable moment from Winter 2009:

Loading K-5 students at John Muir School in the afternoon. A girl, grade 3, sits next to her younger brother in the front right seat. As I walk up from the back of the bus to sit down in the driver seat, I see she's got a Scholastic Books order form on her lap. Pausing next to her, I ask if she's going to order anything. She opens the folded newsprint catalog. Centered on the page is a large photo of our country's new First Family, the Obamas. The girl's little brother leans in with her to look at the portrait of a beautiful family, our new President and his family, beaming back at them. 

I am struck by the historical import of this small, quiet moment:  two young children looking for the very first time at such a portrait and seeing a President and his family who reflects their own: their parents, their cousins, their teenage neighbors. They are not so struck. They are so young, aware of race in their world but not with the depth and import of it another decade of living will bring to that awareness. They are mostly just sitting on the bus looking at a book order.

The girl asks me, "Is that the President?" and I answer, "Yes, it's our new President, President Obama and his family. We call the President's wife 'The First Lady' and his family 'The First Family'."

"Oh," she replies. They look for another moment as I sit in the driver seat and start the engine. She looks closely at the Obama girls, close to her age.  Her brother turns to look out the window as the bus moves away from the school; she turns her attention to the book titles offered on the order sheet. 

I am also struck with a sense that for the children in front of me, it's just another day. A small moment in a normal day -- a moment white children have had for generations upon generations, looking at portraits of all other Presidential families.
A moment that is one piece of the mosaic building their sense of what kind of world they live in, and their place in it. 

* * *

Our sense of our place in the world is formed and built in many ways, by many forces and factors. A Small Moment can  be insidious, damaging. Constant insidious moments are poisonous. Far too many of our children are subject to many insidious moments and damaged by their cumulative poison. 

Happily, a Small Moment can also be salubrious for a growing psyche and soul. That moment on the bus in winter 2009, watching two children gaze at a portrait of their their nation's newly installed First Family on a printed page in their laps on a school bus  -- just another day --  was such a moment. 

This I BelieveSeena Hawley