Last month, I wrote about Roseanna and her library at PS 11 in the Bronx. Today I took the car ride up the Hudson once again, this time to celebrate the library’s grand opening. My office had partnered with the school through The Fund For Public Schools and I was one of a handful of employees who had the privilege of re-designing the space. Of course, talented others had the blueprints and plans. I just had a paintbrush and no painting skills and did what I was told.
Today’s little ceremony, complete with giant scissors, a sparkling ribbon, and a sheet cake, was nothing short of brilliant. There were speeches from the principal and The Fund For Public Schools and a group of student presentations. They spoke of what the library meant to them, to their school, their community, their families.
One little girl, who couldn’t have been more than eight years old, who barely came up to my waist, stood with wire-framed glasses and neatly-combed hair, and told us that, in the library, she feels like a little ladybug. Beneath a blue sky (the walls are blue) and above the green grass (the rug is green) she is curled up small as she reads, surrounded by all these huge books, and I saw the space through her eyes, remembered what it meant to sit with giant, looming, possibilities.
I recalled how I had returned to my own elementary school as an adult, how disoriented I had felt, because everything, then, felt small when I had remembered it as being so huge. And it did seem, in those years, that, perhaps, I had been shrunk to the size of a spotted ladybug.
Everyone’s gratitude today touched me. One of our designers spoke of what the experience meant to him and choked back tears. Roseanna thanked us every step of the way, exclaiming when a rug was placed on the floor, gasping in awe when a table leg was painted bright green. The students erupted into giant, wild, hollering applause as we left the building.
I knew what it meant to the school to have this space, to have a grant for laptops and cameras and more books. But I couldn’t believe how fully and passionately everyone expressed that gratitude. I knew that Roseanna’s passion and energy earlier in the summer had inspired me even if I didn’t quite know how to say it to her. But everyone around me seemed to have no trouble standing up, putting into words what it all meant. They were crying and squealing and jumping up and down. They had no trouble embracing someone in a hug, taking someone’s hand in their own to say thank you.
It is often hard for me to express love and thanks in person. The thought of being overcome with emotion, to a point of tears, in public, embarrasses me. I am awkward in physical embraces and kisses on the cheek. I stumble over sentences. I stand outside of circles and wonder how to insert myself inside. I never say the right thing out loud. I don’t know how.
I know how books can change your world, your life. I know how a gift, not a financial one, but one of support and faith and love can inspire you to do things you never thought you could do. I have been lucky in this life, to receive that gift from a special few. But I don’t know that I have expressed my gratitude for those gifts.
Today, I thought, I should be less fearful of overt displays of expression. I should feel less disoriented and unsure about my place in the world, my place beside others. I have felt giant in the presence of love and support. And I have felt equally humbled and small in its embrace. But I have not always stood up and told you or him or her how it feels, what it means.
I want to. I will.