My workdays often seem to go quickly, but today was one of those days that felt more like five minutes than six hours! And it was the sort of day that made me feel very privileged. That's because I spent it with students at the Mackay Centre's satellite school. It was my first time doing a writing workshop with youngsters who have disabilities and I have to tell you, they stole my heart... each and every one of them!!
Because I have little experience working with people with disabilities, I didn't know what to expect -- except that my day would probably be special. But how special I had no idea!!
The students, who are taught by Sebastian Piquette, Sue Beauregard and Daniel Weisbord, had all read What World Is Left -- the novel I based on my mum's experience in a Nazi concentration camp. The students were really well prepared, thanks to Daniel (who'd taught them the book), but also just thanks to who these young people are -- interested, smart and caring.
I quickly learned that there's a lot of laughter in their classroom. When I shared my tip for getting ideas in the shower (though as we were discussing, some of these students need assistance showering, and so they might need to ask whoever is helping them to give them a little quiet time while they're helping them shower), I said, "What can you lose by trying to get ideas in the shower?" To which a student named Matt replied: "Nothing! You'll just get clean!" (Good point, Matt!)
I want to tell you a little more about the students I met today -- so that, like me, you'll understand that these are not disabled students, they're just regular wonderful students who happen to have disabilities. And whatever challenges they face, these young people have certainly not given up!!
Tan and her brother Neville are both in the class. Neville is a serious writer (I could tell this during the writing exercise by how hard he worked); Tan has a huge heart. She helps decipher what another student, a very bright young man named Ryan (who hopes to make his own movie version of Star Wars some day), is trying to say. Tan also remembered how when she was hospitalized several years ago and she had to be fed through a feeding tube, she managed to help another person -- this happened when another patient's mom was really upset that her daughter required a feeding tube. Tan remembers how a nurse brought the distraught mom to Tan's room to see that the feeding tube was not so bad. "The feeding tube went from my nose to my stomach," Tan said. Tan also remembers the first thing she ate once the feeding tube was removed: "A bag of chips!" (Notice here how DETAILS help bring a story to life.)
Matt (whom I mentioned before) also has a sibling in the class: Michel. Michel told us an amazing story about what happened when he first met Luca Lazy Legs Patuelli -- a world famous break dancer who just happens to be disabled. Michel was in Grade 6 when he met Lazy Legs: "I was so inspired, I literally jumped out of my power chair!" Michel, who is now a serious break dancer himself, says that moment changed his life. I suggested that maybe he should write about the experience, but in keeping with my theory that TROUBLE makes the best stories, I advised him not to focus just on the happy moment, but also to include the struggles and feelings of discouragement that he had along the way, before he met Lazy Legs... and of course, afterwards, too.
It was hard to say good-bye to this class when their school day ended at 2:30. It was also hard to find the right words to tell them how much they touched me today -- with their stories and their openheartedness. Luckily, I thought of what felt like the right thing. And for this, I have to thank Ryan and his fascination with Star Wars. I decided to quote Obi-Wan-Kenobi: "May the force be with you." Thanks, Sebastian, for inviting me to your satellite school today. Thanks to the students for sharing your force with me. Big hug for all of you from Monique