I feel so special
The star said to the snowflake,
Each one a treasure.
Every child has a box that they open in third grade. Imagine all the boys and girls sitting at their desk with the package in front of them. Miss Landers tells the children that sometimes, as with her, parents have a hint what the treasure chest holds and name the baby accordingly, like her parents did. She smiles at Grace Marie.
One child, Betty, blurts out, “Is our whole future decided by what’s in our box?” then remembers to raise her hand. The other students giggle, then quickly quiet. They had all been wondering the same thing. What will the teacher say?
“No, dear children. Nothing is determined. It is a gift. You get to use it any way you wish.”
Then, their teacher holds her breath, her cheeks puffing out, making the children laugh, the atmosphere in the classroom lightened somewhat, and announces, “Now, children!” They turn the key to open. One child gets Grace, a charmed life and one who brings joy. There are children who get beauty that will only last if they work on being as pretty on the inside as well as outside. There is the boy who gets athletic talent but squanders it by being lazy. The boy who gets diligence and focus and is therefore the better athlete. Etc., etc.
Tommy with red hair and freckles is seated next to Grace. He gets a true heart and a keen sense of smell. What!? How disheartening. It would have been better if the box had been empty.
He is grateful that he is sitting next to his friend, who carries the scent of fresh mowed grass and sunshine because on his other side is Mikey who reeks of onion. With his “gift” he can now smell anxiety and disappointment, smugness and joy. It overwhelms him and he puts his head down.
He feels the bile rising in his throat. How cruel life is.
After recess when he was copying the spelling words off the blackboard, pencil in one hand, the other under his shirt on his bare skin trying to settle his stomach, he senses something acrid, an odor that does not belong. He looks to his right. No, it isn’t the hot dog Bob ate, nor the lilac Mary had found on the playground festooning her workspace.
He feels beads of sweat on his forehead.
Smoke. He smells smoke. It feels so close his eyes water.
He hurries to Miss Landers’ desk, and says softly, “The school is on fire.”
What should he do if his teacher doesn’t believe him? Save himself? Grab his friends and force them out? Should he sit quietly and hope he’s wrong? Though he knows he isn’t.
What will he do is she doesn’t believe him?
But she does. Miss Landers looks into the boy’s eyes and sees honesty and a gift.
This good woman hurries the children out of the side door that leads directly to the playground and hesitates at the exit. Faith Landers breaks the glass and pulls down the red lever.
Within minutes the school has emptied, the students buzzing with adrenaline and the excitement of the unexpected while the adults are equally annoyed and afraid—is this someone’s idea of a joke? Or is there danger lurking around the corner?
The principal queries in a loud voice, “Who set off the alarm?”
Tommy is overwhelmed by the pungent odors emitted by the crowd of adults and children—terror, anxiety and now he can smell his own fear at the very real possibility that he will have to shoulder the blame for this evacuation.
Miss Landers raises her hand. Principal Anderson lowers her chin a bit and privately shakes here head. Sometimes, Faith can be a little too—faithful. Gullible actually. The school is taking the statewide tests tomorrow and there is so much riding on it. Funding. Pride. And the little matter of raises.
Ms. Anderson glances back at her building, reassured that everything is as it should be, and marches towards Miss Landers and class. Three feet away she feels more than hears a deafening WHOOMPH and stumbles and falls. As does everyone else. She turns her head towards the school behind her in time to see the middle of the structure collapse upon itself, flames shooting out of a roof that is no longer there. She smells dust and smoke and feels the heat carried on the breeze, hears the shrill sound of sirens approaching. Principal Anderson stays on the ground, head bowed, humbled and thankful.
We are all safe, she prays in gratitude.
Mrs. Landers-Smyth claps her hands together, quieting the classroom, “Children, today is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Great Explosion and I have invited a very special guest speaker who was the Hero of that day. Please join me in welcoming Fireman Conner!” The boys and girls try to still themselves, some running their hands over the gilded boxes on their desks, all eyes on the imposing figure filling the doorway then entering, flaming red hair and the hint of freckles, attired in a thick coat and black boots, a red helmet under one arm and a box just like the ones on their desks under the other.
“Thank you for coming, Tommy,” the teacher says to her former student.
Just then, an impeccably dressed man barges in the classroom and talks in a low, angry voice to Mrs. Lander-Smyth, gesturing then pleading. The teacher says, “No, I’m so sorry” and the man storms out, glancing at Tommy then putting his head down and pushing past. Tommy whispers, “Isn’t that Jeffery Bell? He was such a great classmate, always so easy going. Now he looks so, I don’t know, glum.” Faith replied, whispering too, “He thought if could just be rich everything else good would follow, so he sold his box, the gift of laughter, to Eddie for ten dollars and now he wants a second chance. Of course, I can’t do that, as much as I’d like to. Such a shame.” Both adults stand, lost in their own thoughts. The children had been fascinated by the ruckus but naturally they were now ready to get on with it.
Tommy quickly assessed the situation as the odor of impatience wafted his way and stood behind the large desk in the front of the room.
“Twenty-five years ago, I was sitting right there,” as he points at Sarah, making her blush and her fellow classmates twitter, “waiting and wondering what I would see when I opened my treasure chest. I do not know what yours contains, but I do know that each one of you is special, and you are precious gifts.”
Mrs. Landers-Smyth holds her breath, her cheeks puffing out, making the children laugh, the atmosphere in the classroom lightened somewhat, and announces, “Now, children!” They turn the key to open.
Tommy cannot help but hold his breath, wondering what will be revealed to the third graders, but knowing it will be wonderful.