Learning to be in the moment

Yesterday, 2:30 p.m.: I’m sitting at a round table with a couple of teenagers, both with Down syndrome. I glance at the wall clock. Although I love being in this classroom because it is warm and accepting and makes me grateful, it’s near the end of the school day and I’m tired, a little bored. There are several adult aides in the classroom and they have things under control.
The student sitting next to me, a fifteen year-old, is overweight and slouches over the edge of the table. I am familiar with him from previous times in this room and have grown to be very fond of him. He has a great sense of humor, a wonderful smile, and speaks in unintelligible (to me) grunts. At the moment, he is paging through an old yearbook picked out from the classroom library.
I’m waiting for the bell to ring, thinking about my drive home, wondering if I need to stop at Trader Joe’s, planning my evening although in truth it doesn’t need much planning.
The boy seated next to me points to a picture in the yearbook and, momentarily distracted from my own thoughts, I glance at it. Surprisingly, he has managed to pick out—from all the pictures on all the pages of the yearbook—the faculty picture of his teacher, for whom I am subbing. He can’t read, but he’s matched the picture. Seeing that I have started to pay attention, he points to other photos as I explain them. “That man’s a history teacher. . . That one used to teach math, but she just retired.” More pages. More teachers. Then we’re looking at the school sports teams. Water polo, and the boy turns to me, copying my gestures as I mime the odd, ear-padded shape of a water polo helmet. He points. I say the word. “Helmet.” He struggles to imitate. The page turns. Football. Different hats, smooth. Then the girls’ basketball team. Then soccer.
He turns the pages, points, and I read the captions to him.
When the students are told to put their activities away, I am sorry for this to end. A feeling of complete peace has come over me. From aimless preoccupation with the future, I have come into the moment. It is a feeling I used to have when I read to my daughter. The pages of time turn. She points. I say the word, read the simple text. Letters on the page. Unbidden, my heart swells.

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