There were six kids absent from my class and about that many absent in each of my fellow teachers' classes as well. Celeste looked up from her bell work as I was entering the attendance into the computer. "Why are so many kids gone today?" she inquired.
"Oh...is it that God thing?" blurted out Miguel.
I asked, "You mean "Good Friday" - right, Miguel?"
"Yeah," he replied. "Yeah... Um, what is Good Friday?"
I know there is a separation between Church and State, and I was certainly not in the position to teach theology, but I answered his question in a straightforward manner. "Good Friday is the day Jesus was killed," I explained. "According to my religion, he rose from the dead on the Sunday that followed. We celebrate that as Easter." I saw a lot of heads nodding in agreement. That was enough to satisfy Miguel.
We continued through our regular schedule on this first day without State testing. (With all the silent prayers from teachers, students and administrators, I doubt there was a complete separation between entities this week). After lunch, I read aloud to the class as I do every day. Today I approached the last two chapters of Where the Red Fern Grows. Evan, who already read ahead and knew of the sad ending to this wonderful dog story, passed out tissues to each of his classmates. Before long, those tissues were well in use. I heard muffled sobs as Old Dan and Little Ann were laid to rest. Like most teachers who have shared this novel, I had an unmovable lump in my throat several times and a few tears at the edges of my eyes as well.
I told the kids to let the story settle in their minds over the weekend and we would discuss it in more detail on Monday. Some were still sniffling and wiping their eyes.
We shifted gears to watch a bit of a video before going to the cafeteria for ice cream sundaes. These treats were being offered to all of the kids for their hard work during testing this week. I went back to work at my desk while the kids focused on the film.
A few minutes later, I looked up to see Miguel standing next to me. He smiled and wrapped his arm around my shoulder. "Yes, Miguel," I asked, "what can I do for you?"
"Have you ever wondered what heaven is like, Mr. Ramsey?" he asked. Obviously, he was still thinking of the dedicated dogs from the after-lunch story.
"Yes, Miguel, I have," I responded.
"I'd like to see what it looks like, Mr. Ramsey. Wouldn't you?"
"Well, yeah, Miguel, but not really anytime soon." He smiled.
"Yeah, me neither," he said. "But I wish I knew what it is going to be like." He paused and then asked, "When you die, Mr. Ramsey, do you get like a pretend family to be with you until the rest of your relatives get there? Or do you just have to wait around?"
"Hmm," I pondered. "I'm not sure, Miguel. But I bet you won't be lonely either way."
"Yeah, you're probably right, Mr. Ramsey," he said.
"You don't have to worry, Miguel," I assured, "You will be fine. Besides you won't have to think about that for a long time."
He smiled and hugged me again. "You know, Mr. Ramsey, when I was born, the doctor told my Mom that I was a miracle. He said that cord thing was wrapped around my neck and I almost died."
This time I gave him a hug. "You ARE a miracle, Miguel," I exclaimed. "I bet your parents are so happy to have you in their lives. I certainly am fortunate to have known you all these years and to finally have you in my class!"
Miguel smiled and, like most eleven-year-old boys, jumped to the next subject without missing a beat. "Are we going out for recess today?" he asked.
"Definitely," I replied. He grinned and hurried back to his table to tell his friends the good news.
Copyright, Tim Ramsey, 2014