What Makes a Good Day?

What a blessing it is to have three of the dearest people in my life -- two girlfriends and a husband -- who habitually ask: "How was your day?"

"How are you?" and "What's up?" are easy to deflect with a "fine" / "nothing."  But something about that first expression gives me pause.  Maybe it's the fixed length of time.  Saying, "I'm rotten, but thanks for asking," is kind of a downer.  But saying, "This has been a horrible day" is okay.  Everyone has bad days.  It's part of life.

How was my day?  I awoke tired after another wakeful night; tiny particles of floating Orchard grass seem to have pervaded every porous surface around me, and all night my throat and nose tickle and burn.  I got most of my grading and planning done yesterday at Back to School Night, so I took my time getting ready.  I ironed my skirt and did a load of laundry.

I enjoyed entering the cool comfort of the computer lab; I love turning off the lights and switching on the floor lamps one by one.  The lack of overhead lighting is what everyone loves about the lab, though they can't put their finger on it.  They point to the other little touches: homemade curtains, art prints on the walls.  I like those, too, but it's the $7.99 lamps, ironically named NOT, that really transform the place from sterility to productivity.

My students trickle in during break, excited to see their writing prompt for the day and get going.  One or two always have questions.  Like me, they like to be told they've done a good job; they like their work to be acknowledged.  I make a show of checking off homework even when I'm not grading it, because it lets them know I care that they took the time.

They write.  They write about their writing.  They talk about their writing.  One absentmindedly twirls her thumb drive on a lanyard; it changes course and bonks her on the nose, and she howls in shock as her classmates burst into laughter.  "Don't ever become a lifeguard," I tell her.  "That's off your list."  They laugh some more, talk some more.  They start cutting lines, paragraphs, rephrasing sentences.  It hurts, but it's good.

The bell rings.  I hightail it to my next class on the top floor.  As I enter, the students are writing prayer requests on the board, a drill I devised to keep the classroom from getting out of control while I arrive and get my things in order.  "My mom."  "A friend."  "This weekend."  "Life."  Loopy letters in purple and pink, an artfully-arranged bouquet of needs and hopes.  We pray, ending with Our Father, and in the beat of silence that follows the prayer I take control of the class.  "Get out your vocabulary, please."

They share their findings.  Each student has two words; she tells her classmates where they are found in the book and their significance in terms of the plot.  Then she gives a definition and example, common morphology and one off-the-wall hint that's the reason they like this assignment.  "'Consternation' sounds like a cross between 'concern' and 'concentration.'"  "I made the first 'b' of 'browbeat' into an eyebrow with a club at the end, so it's beating up the rest of the word." "I drew a rainbow with the letters of 'iridescent'."

It's a wonderful class because I don't have to say anything.  They are teaching themselves: making connections, unearthing ideas.  The bell rings too soon.

I'm erasing the board when a student walks in.  "Mrs. Lowe!"  I'd forgotten I asked her to meet me.  I'm glad I didn't leave as quickly as I usually do.  "Hi, Lisa."

She sits.  I start by asking hesitantly if she still wants to write for the school paper this year.  Last year she was my star student, the It Girl of Journalism -- which is to say, the only student who ever did her homework consistently and uncomplainingly.  But over the summer, who knows?  Maybe she's found a new passion.

No, she still wants to write for the paper.  In fact, she says, it's the most important thing to her.  This makes it easier to ask the second question: would you like to be editor?

I wish I had a photo of her face at that moment -- the widened eyes, the clasped hands, the delighted smile.  "I would LOVE to be editor!  Thank you so much for asking me!"  She doesn't realize, I think, how talented she is, what a gift it is to me that she cares and wants to do her best.  We talk shop for a few minutes: meetings, policies, promotion.  Then we fall silent, and she asks, "How was France?"

I smile.  "France was wonderful."  The gift, the heavenly gift of being treated as a human being.  A student who remembered something personal.  Who gave up five minutes of her twenty-five-minute lunch to ask me about my vacation.  I ask about her summer; the trial college program didn't go well, and now she's rethinking her plans.  We agree that it was too busy, too short, and we're glad to be back.

How was my day?  All over the place, really.  Jumbled and disappointing in many respects.  But when someone asks, these moments come back to me like little points of light shining through the poor, browbeat days of my existence.  Just like Lily in the Secret Life of Bees, page 63.  With a club-wielding eyebrow to help me remember.