As in everyone’s life, there are times that I remember from my childhood, that I can go back to in my mind, where memories seem as real as the air I breathe today. Where the feelings and thoughts I had in the past come over me with the same sense of urgency, hope, fear, elation, dread, and joy. There were five minutes of my life as a second or third grader, where I was near death (in my mind), that shape every interaction I have with school age children. Five minutes of a panic, running home from school, that only a young child can have.
It all goes back to the introduction of one of the all-time coolest inventions ever to hit a school classroom. The Sta-Sharp pencil. It was a plastic tube full of sharp pencil lead points glued into small plastic backings. After one point became dull or broke, one could simply remove it from the bottom of the tube and press it into the top of the tube and a new sharp point appeared. In all honesty, I do not know how many points were in a complete pencil, because after a few uses, it became apparent that the design was much more conducive to adaptation for shooting spit balls at classmates.
To improve on the spit ball variation of the invention, my friends and I started shooting the actual pencil leads at one another through the tube. The projectiles were sharp and more heavy. It made perfect sense. My five minutes of dying came, not from being hit with one of the leads, but from a misfire on the pencil. On the way home, and after taking aim at an older kid, I inhaled a deep breath while getting ready to shoot, and breathed in a pencil lead. I did not choke, I did not gasp, but it dawned on me that I would get what I had heard of, even as a child, “lead poisoning”. My only thought was how fast I could run home to see my mother before I died.
I am able to walk those streets today and if I tried I might possibly even be able to run the same route. Those streets will not, however, lead me to my mother. There were many times in my life, though not in a panic over dying, that I ran home to my mother as quickly as I could. Just to be hugged and to get an explanation that everything I have heard about, like lead poisoning, might not be true. I find myself these days, since she has passed, running towards her, not with speed in mind, but with wanting to finish well. Knowing that one day we will embrace again and knowing that while her race is run, there is still a journey for me to travel. One mile at a time.