Power of Pause

Mary - West Chester, Pennsylvania
Entered on March 5, 2008

As the hallway chatter diminished, I began my ninth grade writing class. Pens and pencils glided across journal pages, others lurched, but all heads were bowed responding to the day’s prompt, or so I thought. A whoosh disrupted our concentration as a wad of paper sailed through the air. Sabrina, a usually dedicated student, had just launched a ball of loose leaf at Freddie. I decided to let it go and continued writing – only to look up to find Sabrina throwing another piece of paper at Marisol; Sabrina now had everyone’s attention and writing was forgotten. Ready to reprimand—I instead paused and took into consideration Sabrina’s usual good behavior and enthusiasm for most everything we did in class, and I swallowed what was on the tip of my tongue and instead asked,

“Sabrina do you need attention today?”

“Yes—yesss” she sighed. A tear rolled down her cheek.

“What’s wrong?”

There was an audible sucking in of breath from the other 27 students, all eyes were on Sabrina.

Sabrina blurted out, “I just didn’t want my new friend, Maria, to know what kind of family I have. When Maria’s parents drove her to my house last night so that we could work on our project, my stepfather and mother were drunk and my stepfather was chasing my mother out of the house with a knife. Maria and her parents drove up in the middle of this mess and my mother jumped into her car and smashed into my step-father’s truck. . .”

Sabrina’s voice trailed off and another tear escaped. “I just didn’t want Maria to know . . .”

A spontaneous, sympathetic sigh arose from the class, and the usually tough as nails Sophia leaned over to pat Sabrina’s arm.

“Well” I uttered, pausing, not sure of what I was going to say.

“Well, I repeated. “I’m just glad that you are here today with us – you are a remarkable person – I know that Maria realizes this.”

Twenty-seven students looked at me and I repeated – “I’m just glad that you joined us today, Sabrina; your spirit is remarkable.” A glimmer of a smile on Sabrina’s face. And then I restarted class – another collective audible sigh . . . .

If I hadn’t stepped back, paused, I might never have realized just how remarkable Sabrina was on that particular day and subsequent days, or how remarkable the other students in the class were with their heartfelt sighs and murmurs. For a few minutes – I took time away from the curriculum – forgot about the ever present state and national tests looming, and paused– asking another human being what she needed.

I couldn’t fix Sabrina’s home life, and truth be told—Sabrina loved her mother and stepfather. All of these variables were beyond my control, beyond my classroom doors; however, within my reach, within our reach everyday– are moments like these; If we will pause, look, listen.

It is easy to get swept up in the raging current of modern life, focusing on what’s around the bend, what’s up ahead, focusing on results, test scores, and outcomes, never really seeing the Sabrinas who swirl about us on the way– but if I pause for just a moment, step back, look and listen to those around me, I can see much farther—and reaching the desired results or outcomes is a joy not a job. This I believe.