Pulitzer Prize winning columnist and author Anna Quindlen spent much of her early career describing the challenges and triumphs of parenting young children. An avid reader, Quindlen also writes about the transformative value of good literature, for adults and children. Like other deep thinkers, Quindlen notices “before and after events” in families and in books, moments that mark time in dramatic and lasting ways. A letter is not a classic text or a pivotal event, but the afternoon I opened an envelope from a family of former students, the walk from my mailbox to the front door of our home became a before and after event.
The letter is filled with evidence of how well children can cope, even in an unsettling time. In less than a page of cursive handwriting, the kids use their finest poetic language to express an earnest desire to be safely together at school. An educator’s analysis of the maturity and academic accomplishment evident in the letter might be useful. An analysis of the risks and benefits of in-person learning might also be appropriate. Both types of commentary would be tedious, redundant, and beside the point. The kids’ letter is a magnificent, perfectly-timed piece of writing.
Flattery is privately delightful. Self-published praise is less than admirable, but there is at this time a greater value in sharing. The communication of widespread hopes, fears and disappointments helps adults and kids stay empathetic, healthy and connected. Teachers and kids have missed being at school together, learning beside each other. Though we do not know how school will evolve, we know already it will be a before-and-after year. We know school will not feel normal, but we also know how to keep trying and how to care. There will be a time when we can once again “hug a loved someone” without hesitation or regret.