For many years now, twelve to be exact, I have showed up to this wonderful, fulfilling and terribly paying job where I am an assistant at Park Road Montessori School. Don’t let me tell you all the reasons I do not want to be a “teacher” there…or anywhere in the public school system. But I show up at this terrific job, where I generally start my day with putting away dishes and unstacking kitchen chairs, where I give many cursive lessons to first graders and support children doing any number of things and help them work shit out with each other when they need help doing that. Most days I love what I do and some days it feels like a celebration. Like on Fridays when I start my day in the Park on a bike ride with all different kinds of kids…where I’m so happy they showed up (last week one boy woke up his mom and let her know he needed to ride his bike to school and that is amazing and miraculous to me). On Fridays I support the children in our classroom who prepare lunch and we all probably eat too much. Once a year we celebrate Thanksgiving, which we prepare, right down to churning our own butter. Once a year we take a look at Chanukah, and we make latkes and apple sauce and we play dreidel. And once a year, just this week in fact, we participate in the beautiful celebration of Diwali.
Diwali is a holiday that is celebrated by folks all over South Eastern Asia. Before I came to work at Park Road Montessori I had no idea what the heck it was. It was a completely foreign concept to me. There’s an Indian lady (Ms. Priti) who is a teacher at our school who puts her heart, soul and time into sharing this cultural (and yes, based in a different religion than my own) experience with our school. She has beautiful clothing gifted by ladies and children in her own community, and let’s us borrow or keep them. She gets lots of flowers to make “rangoli” outside each classroom that wishes to participate, and she comes to greet each classroom with her own classroom of pre-k and kindergarten children who give us the holiday greeting and occasionally (upon request, if they are welcome) sing us a song. Occasionally I find the emails leading up to this spectacular celebration a little tiring. But I always take something else away from participating in this lovely expression of a culture different from my own. I feel like I am given a gift, I am given a gift of beautiful clothing, of grace and courtesy, of welcoming others. My daughter felt the same way when she attended Park Road. She loved getting her bindi and watching me be dressed so fancy (I’m not a fancy dresser in general). She loved how colorful the outfits were–she loves color.
To me its very much like on St Patrick’s Day when Kelly used to show up with her violin and sit in the hallway before school and play Irish music for all of us, and how Ms. Maggie would show classrooms how to write with fancy, Irish lettering while she told us her own family’s history, or how Ann has always made enough Latkes to feed not just our classroom, but the entire school’s supply of teachers and staff, and also on St. Nicholas Day puts treats in children’s shoes even though that is “not her holiday.” We do these things, we celebrate our differences, because we love them. We celebrate our differences because without them the world would be such a dry and boring place. We celebrate our differences so that our children will learn to celebrate their own…and to accept and love the differences of others.
That was a lot to say. I wrote it because I wish for differences among people to be celebrated. For people to be loved for who they are even when they might come from a different place and celebrate different things and look very different than me.
The school where I work is a place where people come, they work, and they retire–there’s not a lot of turn-over. It is that way because of love and acceptance. It is that way because we work hard, through not always easy situations, at work that’s important and good. It is that way because of the work of our hands, our minds and our unique gifts that we each bring to the table–one of mine is showing people how to ride bikes and have a good time.
Thank you Ms. Priti for sharing Diwali, the festival of light, with all of us. Thank you for your gift of beautiful clothing, colorful flowers, lights and tremendous grace. Which we could all use.