You return to the town where you grew up. You take your kid to see your old elementary school. You remember it as an enormous, open, free space filled with trees and a jungle gym, surrounded by a vibrant and colorful garden. You remember the stone steps you climbed with anticipation every August, holding your mother’s hand, to find out who your new teacher would be as soon as the lists were posted on the doors. You think about the tree house and the fort you made with your friends and the wooden clubhouse your father built for you in the backyard so you’d have a haven to imagine and dream. You look out now and see two armed guards at the school, and you see a group of kids leaving, not talking to each other, eyes glued to their cellphones. Your child looks up at you, rightfully asks why you loved this place so much. You’re still tethered to the idea of school as sacred space, and you’ve tried to impart that to your child. Together, you look up, see a white egret land near that group of kids, startling them. You’re finally startled again, for good reason.
Deborah J. Cohan, is a Professor of Sociology at the University of South Carolina-Beaufort and the author of Welcome to Wherever We Are: A Memoir of Family, Caregiving, and Redemption.