I couldn’t sleep last night.
Irritations from the day prickled, causing me to toss about. Gradually, oversized memories joined me, pulling back the comfort of sleep and creating a turmoil of thoughts and plans. Ultimately, I gave into the unease and began to wander about the quiet house, looking out of windows, picking up books and letters, tidying a counter. I drank a glass of water, straightened up my desk, and looked at the empty streets lined with parked cars and yellow streetlights.
At 3:00 a.m., I heard a train wail it’s mournful horn as it passed the Workman Mill intersection near Valley Boulevard in La Puente. “Woot-wooo. Woot-wooo,” it called out. I stopped and listened. That sound always causes me to stop and listen, lifting my head like a doe at a stream. Although we hear trains several times a day, I imagine it as the same lonely train as it travels parallel to the 10 Freeway from the east to Union Station in Los Angeles.
Perhaps you heard the same train. It surely passed through Rialto at 2:00 am. Most likely, the same train warned sleepless neighbors to stay off the tracks at Pepper and, also, at Riverside. Perhaps, you too couldn’t sleep thinking similar thoughts as I. I am reminded that we are all connected even 50 miles away. Connected by our shaky wifi, we have constructed a ghostly classroom of the mind where we meet throughout the week to share ideas and thoughts, and to re-enact a “normal” class.
Perhaps you are disappointed sometimes that the class is quiet and each of us are so far apart even if our faces, dots, or ceiling fans cluster in boxes right up next to one another. At times someone throws out a hello over the mic or on the chat box but we can go all day without talking or connecting with another person. We stare at this screen and listen to the teacher who seems more like a news anchor reporting the lesson..
Perhaps you “try to make the best of it.” You participate and turn on your camera and ask questions and offer answers.
For me, as an English teacher, the answer to that feeling of disassociation is the book. It is the reading of the book and sharing that experience that unites us and makes our class seem like a “normal” class, In English 11, we are reading Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. It is a phenomenal book. It is a book that has the potential to shape everyone who reads it. It is the kind of book that I love to teach; it is why I teach.
You see, books have the power to change us and connect us. Everything important I know comes from a book. Books can transport us, shake us, comfort us, and devastate us. Sometimes a book is like a warm blanket. Sometimes a book is like a dandelion seed that drifts and floats through the mind until it lands in a crevice, takes root and grows. Sometimes a book is like a fragrance, that lingers behind in a room. Sometimes a book is an ocean wave that crashes and overwhelms you, knocking you over and taking you to a different place. And sometimes a book is a 3:00 a.m. train.
We can’t finish Just Mercy in my class. The troubling thought that pushed me out of bed was that our classes will be reshuffled next semester for administrative purposes. I will have many new students from Ms. Thompson’s, Ms. Rodriguez’, and Mr. Cabanas’ classes. Many of my students will be in those teachers’ classes next semester. For that reason, we cannot continue Just Mercy because everyone is at different places in the book and in the school. Honestly, the realization that my students will not be finishing the book shakes me. It goes against my core beliefs. Although I know many will not continue reading it, I will encourage each of my students to read it on their own and hope many will.
There is a light breaking through my blinds that is the dawn of another day. For some reason (or for exactly that reason), I can now fall asleep with a settled mind.
I know another train will come. More importantly, I am certain that another book will call out to you and to me in the night.