As you may have gathered from previous posts, fifth grade was a momentous time. We were a motley crew of 28, but Ms. D was as fearless and enthusiastic a teacher as they come, and by the end of the year, our inner-city public school classroom was full of 11-year-olds ready to change the world. Ms. D encouraged the reluctant to love reading and the timid to speak up; she promoted artistic expression and common sense; she championed environmental stewardship, and turned at least one of us into the sort of person who will carry an empty bottle across the country to her home recycling bin if she can't find one while traveling.
Ms. D celebrated diversity, nurtured kindness, and advocated personal responsibility: lessons worth remembering always, but especially in these troubling times. She died six years ago, but I've been thinking of her a lot lately, so it felt particularly fortuitous to happen upon this copy of the second pledge we recited every morning of fifth grade. Unlike its patriotic counterpart, which was dulled by constant repetition, this one was delivered with gusto, each time; an inspiring chorus of 28 little voices, and one big one.
As a new school year kicks off here in these divided United States, against a backdrop of great turmoil, here's hoping that the voices of tolerance, big and small, soon prevail.
Like many teenagers, I fancied myself a poet. Like most, I was, objectively speaking, not great. My style was all over the place, the one common thread being an awkward reliance on dark subjects about which I knew nothing. The poem about being a suburban divorcée. The one written from the point of view of a coroner, shaped to resemble a body. An unnecessarily angry indictment of Connecticut. I stubbornly resisted editing, and it showed. But as a senior in high school, I had a patient and kind creative writing teacher, and my poems improved.
One was published in a literary magazine, which I was moderately proud of, but when a cousin read the poem later that summer and told me she wished she'd written it herself, I suddenly felt like I'd won a Pulitzer. Nina, only two years older, was already an accomplished wordsmith by then, her own poems lush with imagery and genuine experience. While I had been writing weird Valentine's Day poetry about cryogenically preserved heads (yes, really), she had been mastering metaphors and the art of a beautifully turned phrase. Her writing was in an entirely different league, so I could not have imagined a bigger compliment. While I suspected at the time that "On Hearing Our Song Over the Kitchen Radio" would be my only poetic success (it was), I was pretty sure that Nina's trajectory would be much more extraordinary. And it has been.
Today, her memoir, The Bright Hour, hits bookshelves everywhere. Nina finished the book this past January, just a month before dying from metastatic breast cancer. She was 39. The book, like Nina, is brilliant and gorgeous and profound and funny. It's about love and family and death and dogs and friendship and all the other wildness that is life as a human. It's full of masterful metaphors and beautifully turned phrases, and there's even a Top Gun reference. It is, in short, amazing. And while I'm heartbroken that Nina isn't with us to share in the joy of this astonishing accomplishment, I couldn't be prouder. The world is about to meet an exceptional woman.
Today's discovery of a Norwegian translation of my astronomy chart is a timely and welcome reminder that science doesn't much care about geopolitical boundaries, and much of humanity gazes at our shared sky with equal wonder. It's a nice thought.
If you get a chance, I encourage anybody with clear skies to watch tomorrow's (Friday, February 10, 2017) lunar eclipse. Venus is also pretty awesome these days, and the eagle-eyed should try to spot Comet 45P! There's a lot going on in our galaxy, and most of it is gloriously silent.