Viewed from an untended backyard, the straight, white ribbons streaming from the jet give a sense of order, calm protection. Maybe because the sound of the jet opens a memory two decades old when scores of military planes crisscrossed the Virginia sky in the weeks after September 11. Today the circumstances are different. But once again fewer civilian planes appear as Americans stick to home during the coronavirus, which makes each jet citing distinctive.
Today due to the coronavirus many parents have little time to focus on the sky or much else outside their own abode. Multi-tasking rules the day as parents are concerned about their family’s physical and financial health while elements of the economy shut down for how long no one is certain. Some can work online. Others may share electronics and/or precious internet resources with their children. Professional needs compete with schoolwork, Zoom-meetups with family and friends, children’s videos, and video gaming. Digital homeschooling provides links to organized educational resources and possibly a way to view school buddies while schools are closed. As schooling moves online, an even heavier burden falls on those parents who don’t work online, need to be out of the house, and have not learned Zoom or the education software required for their child’s school.
Soaring in the sky or the classroom is not the first thing that comes to mind today. But by utilizing the imagination of our children, new projects could open unexpected areas of learning that could excite students for years to come. Taking time to daydream can be a productive use of this unexpected block of time. Doing a bit of that myself, I wandered into book sites and opened a chapter of a well-written memoir (More Myself: A Journey, with Michelle Burford, Flatiron Books) by songstress, songwriter, and pianist Alicia Keys. Serendipity.
Growing up in Hell’s Kitchen around the corner from Times Square when it was “an X-rated cesspool open for business,” she went the other direction, taking advantage of every activity her paralegal single mother struggled to afford to keep her only child busy. Alvin Ailey summer dance classes, gymnastics, and ballet ran up against classes to hone her one-of-a-kind voice. When Alicia turned six, a neighbor offered her mother a “well-seasoned” piano, a little out of tune, provided she could get it moved. In stepped two hefty guys from Beethoven Pianos, who made the move for fifty dollars.
Building a Career: Beethoven to Ellington to Prince, Back to Chopin
Once the piano belonged to her, Alicia’s mother found a piano teacher–Margaret Pine—who stayed to mold and encourage her talented prodigy through high school. Alicia stuck with it, though at eleven, she negotiated a summer break, promising diligence during the school year. Soon she was back at it practicing Beethoven’s sonatas, Mozart’s concertos and Satie’s preludes, then moving onto Joplin and jazz greats Ellington, Waller, and McPartland. Wasn’t long before her personal fusion included Tupac, Salt-N-Pepe and Prince. All the while continuing to marvel as she played Chopin.
It’s not necessary to be the multi-talented Ms. Keys to find a bliss that can last, maybe a lifetime. In eighth grade, Sister Theolea, wrote just one line across the top of my autobiography: “You have a newsy way of writing.” Who knows what triggered her to write that note? But that wee bit of encouragement carried me through journalism school and decades of writing—from reporting for a Midwestern newspaper to Capitol Hill, then twenty years as a national transportation safety communicator.
That makes this week’s news more wrenching. As of April 8, 14,700 people who have died in America. As New York Governor Andrew Cuomo reminded us, “Every number is a face.” Two of those faces belong to people who have offered guidance and encouragement to students throughout their careers have died of the coronavirus. Joseph Lowinger, 42, principal of the Mary Louis Academy in New York was one of the 776 who have died in New York this week (by April 8). He’d worked at the school for twenty years, his entire career, according to his wife.
The second, Dwight Jones, served the Detroit Public School as basketball coach at Mumford High, also died of the disease this week. A Detroit TV reporter had calls from former students and players who told him Coach Jones would always make time to talk, even after they graduated.
Guidance works best with open minds and willingness to move forward. Developing a skill requires persistence, as we see with Alicia. This paired with her talent and the shaping from her piano teacher, who sparked her to push on. For the rest of us, that little spark from a middle school or high school teacher or a coach can work wonders and offer encouragement that pushes a teen off the ledge into the pond, where their interest could last a lifetime. Now think for a minute about a teacher who made a difference in your life or your child’s progress. Someone who noticed a talent that others missed. Someone who helped you figure out a personal or classroom problem. How about we each send a few words of gratitude to a teacher or mentor who made a difference in our life?