Thursday, May 21, 2009

Copper Haired Children & Peppermint Tea

It’s a soft, gray rainy afternoon. This is my day with Ellie, my nine-year old granddaughter. She is up for a trip to The English Butler, a tearoom in the next town. Our conversation runs to the usual banter about what happened in school today – what was fun and satisfying - - what was challenging - - accompanied by the rise and fall of emotions that go along with the joys and disappointments.

The streets of town are empty but “the butler” is out on the porch and the tearoom is open. Ellie takes delight in running her hands in front of the sensor that sets “the butler’s” wobbly head in motion and rings forth an eerie “Tea is served in the dining room.” The hostess seats us at a diminutive round table set with a real table cloth and real china cups and saucers painted with luxurious pink tea roses, of course. Her cheery British accent brings sun to an otherwise subdued and foggy atmosphere. We order a pot of peppermint tea and some blueberry scones with clotted cream and blueberry preserves. The honey for our tea comes in the shape of a small, golden spoon on the end of a wooden stick.

As we wait for our tea to brew, Ellie resumes the after school conversation and becomes somewhat pensive. “We had a lock-down today.” I feel my insides shrink a bit. “A lock-down? - - What does that mean?” She proceeds to tell me that it’s like a fire drill except there are no bells. The principal’s voice comes on over the PA system and announces the lock-down. Each unit of classrooms has a small galley kitchen and the kids all file in there and close the door so they will be safe in case anybody comes into the school with a gun.

I take a deep breath and ask her how she feels about having to drill for a lock-down. “It’s creepy and I feel scared. What if somebody really did come to school to hurt us?” I want to cry. Much as I know that the drills are in the interest of her safety, I want her world to be drill free just a little longer. Her anxiety reactivates old buried feelings in me from my 4th grade year – the year in which, when the alarm sounded, we nine-year olds quietly lined up, retrieved our coats from the coat room and filed out into a basement hallway where we curled up on the floor as small as we could and pulled our coats over us to protect us in the event of a nuclear attack.

Sixty-plus years later, in a world little changed with regard to the potential threat to human existence, I renew my inner commitment to nonviolent living, the stakes ever so much higher with this beautiful copper-haired child sitting before me, sipping her honeyed peppermint tea.

Vicki Hanjian

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