Measuring twenty-six inches in height and forty-seven inches in diameter, my surface is a faux wood laminate over layers of pressed plywood. The underside of my surface is marked with Room 210 – SCRUGGS (though Scruggs is not my owner, just my keeper for a time). I was chosen more for my function than for my beauty, and so for several decades I have been a strong surface for the work of educating children.

I began sharing a room with Mrs. Scruggs a month before the planes struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. She spent that day resting her elbows on my smooth surface as her chin rested on her own palms. Watching the students work, she had a hard time keeping her mind on teaching.  Instead, she imagined how parents would explain such a tragedy, and her soul prayed the words out of reach.

My favorite days were the ones when volunteers from a neighboring church came. For many years a few times each week, Grandpa Rankin, as the children called him, and Mrs. Bradley encircled me with one or two children at a time. Here they listened to students read, played learning games, answered endless questions, and provided rich knowledge. What was happening invisibly was that children were valued for being themselves, they imagined new possibilities, and they were loved unconditionally.

An estimated 500 children have spent time sitting around me just during the time that Mrs. Scruggs has been my keeper. These students have written, erased and rewritten millions of words expressing countless ideas and calculations. Their fidgety hands have used pencils to chisel holes around my edges. And, occasionally, their tears have dropped from their cheeks and splattered on my surface. The children represent families from all over the world; some have lived comfortably in Alabama for generations while others live in fear that their family could be deported. Most receive all possible love and support from their parents; a handful depend more greatly on the love of their teachers to fill gaps that exist at home.

If you were to come to Room 210 and pull up a chair to sit beside me, you would see across the room a framed photograph by George Elliot. It is of a colorful, dilapidated school bus covered with painted words, “They say one man cannot change the world, but maybe we all can! Power to the Peaceful.” If you were to spend a little time with the children in this room, you might understand why the teacher cringes when she hears adults say, “We have taken God out of the schools,” for she witnesses the love of God every day as she sits with children around me. She sees the mystery of God in the curiosity of young minds, God’s patient compassion expressed through volunteers and fellow teachers, and the spirit of encouragement and hope through the words and the persistence of her students.

mike mcbrayer