A Wordless Thank You

The graduation’s over- at least the programmed part. The twelve tiny graduates have already walked down the aisle, to the soundtrack of a Youtubed Pomp and Circumstance, and the click and flash of tens of cameras. The awards have been given; songs sung; verse recited, accompanied with swooping hand motions and exaggerated expressions that I know mimic my own.

Group pictures have been taken, organizing twelve gowned and capped little ones into neat rows, indicating over and again how the back row must look between their front row peers; where the “windows” are. The meal has already been served, too; plates of mostly-eaten sandwiches, sticky cups stained fruit-punch red litter the tables set up across the chapel.

There are two small tables set at the front of the room. Miniature rectangles, barely past my knee, decorated with graduation-themed table cloths, special made centerpieces. Their little blue chairs- the ones the boys in aftercare carried downstairs, under my supervision, the day before- sit around each table. During the ceremony, when the chairs stood so neatly in a staggered line on the stage, each seat was occupied. Each student had a seat, and there they sat while their principal, their teacher, spoke. A kindergarten line of miniature royalty.

Now, though, half of the chairs are empty. Their previous occupants roam the room, greeting visiting relatives, accepting congratulatory hugs and kisses with dimpled smiles, not even attempting to hide their joy, their excitement. At tables- the taller, regular tables- all around the room, food is eaten, pictures are taken, children are celebrated.

I move around the room, sticky with the sweat of directing my sweet graduates and the press of so many bodies in such a stifling hot room. I meet families, answer every child who requests a picture with a resounding yes, and nibble on a sandwich, down a cup of luke-warm punch in seconds. Between strong parent handshakes and child-given hugs around the waist, I sink into an unoccupied seat at one of the small, student tables.

There are two students- they’re really first graders now- sitting at the table, and after two months of sitting at the same miniature tables, in the same little blue chairs, with them while they learned, I slip into an empty seat next to them without a second thought. I love being in those chairs, being at their eye level; beside them, with them, as opposed to over them, leaning down to meet their upturned faces. No, sitting on those little chairs, my legs stretched under the table, I can easily glimpse their faces, read their expressions, talk with them.

So we sit, there at the little table, a boy on each side of me, and we talk about summer plans and how proud I am of them, and when one proffers his half-eaten bag of cheesy chips, I reach in and take one without hesitation; it’s been a long time since I worried about germs with these loves, and that kind of generosity is not easily turned down.

And then, as I wipe the gooey orange powder from my finger tips, the movement of another small graduate catches my eye. His parents standing, poised to leave, watch him from beyond the nearest tall table. The boy, whose dark eyes and dimples followed me, helped me, brought me so much joy while I taught, steps closer to me, quickly closing the span between us.

And then, almost before I realize he’s there, the child has appeared at my side, laid a faint kiss on my cheek, and rushed off once more to his parents, to his sister, to his summer. And I have a second to acknowledge him, to say goodbye, congratulations, you did great, before he’s gone, but the sweet gentleness, the child kindness of his little kiss, his wordless thank you, remains with me for far longer.

~Natalia

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