Guest Speaker

“I thought it went really well,” I answered, looking across the table at Ray.

Becky nodded and agreed, lifting her margarita for a toast.  “Totally.  I’ve never seen the kids so engaged.  I think they really couldn’t believe that you’d fought in a war.  To them, soldiers and war are something they hear about in movies that their parents shouldn’t let them be watching, not someone that they can see and touch and talk to.”

Becky and I had been teaching around the theme All Around the World all year long.  Every two weeks we’d pick a new country and build our lessons around it.  Some of the countries were easy to pick:  Spain, France, Israel, Canada, Mexico, Egypt, Japan, China.  But others were hard to find information on and to craft lessons that would make sense to fit in with our first grade curriculum.  When she heard me talk about going to see Raymond, my ex fiance’s father, she was intrigued by the fact that he’d been a Desert Storm soldier.  “He could come talk to our classes about Saudi Arabia,” she offered.  “It would be great to include that country; we haven’t done anything from the middle east besides Israel and we don’t want to look biased towards choosing the more Western one.”

I had balked at the idea.  While I knew that Ray was back in the States again, having apparently separated from his German wife, I wasn’t exactly sure that asking him for a favor was something I was up for.  Sure, I’d been able to get over much of my anger over our broken engagement when I’d seen him a few months ago.  But it wasn’t exactly as if I was looking forward to seeing him again any time soon.  However, when I’d casually mentioned the idea one night to his father on the phone, he’d immediately gone and asked Ray if he’d be up for it.  Just a week later, he had stood in my classroom and talked to sixty plus children about life in the Middle East.  The kids had loved him, and they sniggered when he mentioned that he knew me from back in high school.

“Well I loved doing it,” Ray responded.  “I never really have been around kids that much, other than my nieces and nephews.  I don’t know how you guys do it.  Those are a lot of kids,with a lot of issues.”

“Oh, that’s funny you would say that,” I laughed.  “They were actually really well behaved today.”

Ray looked from Becky to myself.  “No, it’s not just the kids, although yeah, that was definitely part of it.   It’s the no playground thing.  The no place for them to have music class thing.  The no library thing, the no computer class thing.  It’s not just the kids and how many you have and their issues.  It’s the total lack of everything you guys have to give to them.  It’s like,” Ray paused, trying to figure out the right metaphor.  “It’s like you have to give them so much more of yourself because there isn’t anything else to give them.”

I could see Becky slump a little in her chair.  “That’s exactly what it feels like, all day, every day.  You’re so tired sometimes, because you feel like you’re it.  You’re all they’ve got, so you have to give 100 % all of the time.”

I nodded.  “Very perceptive, Ray.”  I could see him wince at what he perceived as sarcasm.  “No, I’m not being sarcastic.  It’s kind of nice to see someone our age get it.  Unless you’re there in it, like our friends, they just can’t understand.  I think that’s why Becky and I have become so close; we’re the only ones we know who get it..”  I smiled sincerely at him, to show him that I meant the words.

I was actually touched that he did get it.  It had been a while since I’d contemplated the difficulty of my job.  I hadn’t looked at it as an outsider would in a long time.  I took another sip of my margarita, feeling a tiny piece of something grow back where it used to be.

“Well thanks for letting me be a part of it,” Ray said to me.  “I feel like I know a little more what your life is like these days.  And I’m glad I do.”

I found myself surprised that I was, too.


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