Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Purposefulness (Purpose in Life) (05/25/06)
TITLE: The Last Day
By James Clem
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Nothing compares to that moment when a child suddenly understands a new idea. That instant in time when the frustrated frown and furrowed eyebrows transform into an expression of pure innocent delight. When their eyes widen and their mouth drops open, something inside of me ignites with pleasure. Often it’s a fleeting glimpse. Moms and dads may hear about it later, but they miss seeing that rapturous expression. What a privilege it is for me to share in those priceless awakenings.
I was only six years old the first time I saw this wondrous, blossoming effect. I had been just sitting at my desk reading quietly like we’d been told to do, when suddenly my first grade teacher, Mrs. Wilson, called my name. My head snapped up, wondering what I had done this time.
I walked slowly up to her desk; my heart was racing and my hands were sweating. I had no idea what I had done. Mrs. Wilson was surrounded by students asking questions about one thing or another. She had an anxious look on her face which puzzled me; it wasn’t the stern visage I had expected.
Looking back, I always point to that fateful moment as the one that set my life on a breathtaking journey of discovery. Mrs. Wilson gently took one of my hands in hers and asked if I would try and help a boy who was struggling with his homework.
For a moment, I just stood there. I don’t know if I even said anything or not. I didn’t know what to do. No one had ever asked me to do anything like that before.
Being just six years old, I of course did whatever my teacher told me to do. I went over to his desk. The boy’s name was Jasper White, I guess I always will remember it. He was working on his math; there were markouts and erasures all over the page, and in one spot he had rubbed a hole clean through the paper. He seemed to be on the verge of crying.
I mumbled something like “Do you need some help?” His eyes conveyed a message of complete frustrated helplessness. I looked over his paper and not one question was right. I looked over at Mrs. Wilson hoping for some kind of reprieve, but she was helping other students and not looking at me.
I’ve always loved numbers. They’re the most logical thing in the world to me. I had some jellybeans in my pocket. I don’t know how I knew to do this, but I pulled out a handful and counted them out into groups. I pointed to one group and asked Jasper how many were in the group. He guessed four. He might as well have said “giraffe.” The word meant nothing to him.
I helped Jasper most of the morning. I was very patient with him although I didn’t know it at the time. Slowly Jasper began to grasp the concept of counting and adding.
As lunch break came closer, I pointed to one group of three jellybeans. Jasper hesitated but confidently said there were three. I pointed to a single jellybean and he said "one." Then I carefully combined the two piles emphasizing three plus one is how many? Jasper stared at it for a long moment. And then, for one second of eternity, the world stopped turning and understanding blossomed across his face. He shouted “four” making everyone in the whole class glance over at us. I cringed and looked at Mrs. Wilson, knowing for sure I was in trouble again.
She had an odd look on her face that I couldn’t understand. And Jasper did too. His eyes were wide and his mouth was open with the biggest smile he could manage. The next thing I knew, he had thrown both arms around me. The whole class began to cheer although none of them really knew what was going on.
It’s the last day of school. My children will soon be going home for the summer. I miss them already.
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