Dodging Trains

I blame that text message, or the twinkle lights, but mostly, the constant of Alan’s gaze.

It started years ago. And likely years before that. But maybe, I’ll start with the rubric.

It was my first full-time teaching position. A small town and a class with only a few grade twelve students. I had asked them to share. To simply talk with each other about the books they were reading. I was so new to teaching. Yet the kids trusted me. While the students read every day, I read too, or sat beside one of them and talked about their books. Often, we sat in a bigger sharing circle and shared thoughts on themes, structure, craft, passion, connecting the text to our own background knowledge. We shared books, found new texts, and invited poets and authors in to share. I loved my high school kids. We wrote our pieces, published… but for my tiny grade twelve group… sharing publicly was horrifying.

I remember walking in to class one afternoon and finding them waiting, standing by our poetry nook. They stood, a collectively serious team.

They wanted to negotiate.

They said they were willing to share, orally, with each other, globally, but only if part of the criteria might be Courage.

Now. Courage isn’t a provincially recognized outcome. In any curricula.

Yet, they wanted to be assessed for it. They saw value in it. They wanted the skill of courage to matter. Furthermore, one student, Andrew, had the sticky-notes ready, and set out to lead his peers through the process of co-constructing the definition and then the criteria for courage.

Their rationale: just because you want to do something, really, really want to do something, doesn’t make it easy to do it. There is measurable worth in working through fear and choosing hope. The challenge of one’s work needs to be part of one’s grade.

They named this courage. I’ve written a bit about naming this potential. There are similarities.

Names have power, and all that ~ E.R.

In the end, courage was defined as a two fold complex skill, measurable through four varying degrees of proficiency.

They owned their creative process and they owned their public sharing. And this was October. By April we were live-streaming our poetry, sharing our work at open mics in the city, and collaborating with partners from around the world.

There is such power when we come to name what it that makes us shake.

I remember after that first day, emailing both my principal and my superintendent “I’ve allowed the 12s space to lead. Also, I am formally assessing a skill that is not an outcome. I am so excited”

And I am. Courage is a big skill to learn to acquire. Its strategies deeply complex. Mystical. Much like twinkle lights.

In November one of my grade 11s, Dek, viewed Stand By Me. He had never seen it before. And viewing was epic! – My classroom is much changed from the days of the rubric. Students come to me who need extra support, who need to finish other course, to aquire lagging skills, for, really, a myriad of reasons, but, most, who simply need some momma-saas time, and always, mostly, first, to belong. – I’ve been working with Dek to understand much of the above.

He loves our space. Showing up in the middle of the day for our class, while skipping other classes. While he sat safely with earbuds in, watching the coming of age story unfold on the screen of a laptop, other boys in the class, every so often, would circle behind him grab a glimpse of the screen, and comment, “oh yeah!” “The pennies!”

Dek is quiet. And kind. He just wanted to watch the movie. But he’d stop and let his peers gabber: “That’s something!. That sort of thing. Going to see a dead body.”

The others would ask questions. Mostly ones that made them titans of the universe. At lease, in front of each other, or they hoped, in front of quiet Dek, whose steady calm unnerves them.

When the movie was over, Dek pulled out his earbuds. He set them down on the table. The others’ continued to add anecdote long after the credits. They talked about Chopper and how awesome it was to hop the fence.

But not Dek.

He listened.

After the flurry had settled and the other boys had returned to their projects, and when he appeared like he was about to settle into his journal, he asked, the words floating across the Independence table, across to me, “You ever do that Miss Saas?’

“Do what?”

“Dodge a train?”

“ No.”

Then something hit me.

“Yeah.” The others stopped working. I pushed back comfy into my chair. “Yeah, last summer.”

The bell rang, leaving the boys asking for the story that then, I didn’t know how to tell. Dek, though, he smiled at me before he got up, walked to the door, his steady slow gate, and he didn’t look back.


When I finished my M.Ed. degree. I felt that the world ought to sort of open up, with a glittered sort of acknowledgement and, I had convinced myself, with a different job. I kinda felt that it was earned.

Last summer I dodged a few trains, yeah …

I had been scheduled for a hysterectomy. A routine pelvic exam and pap test. Then, suddenly, my world ran the rails.

My mom was my age when she had her first run with cancer. Her first. ovarian. Then, the year dad had his stroke, mom had a lobe of her right lung removed. After the lobe and a growth the size of an orange was removed from between her lungs, mom looked at her surgeon and stated she simply didn’t have time for cancer. That, her forth cancer-train dodge. Or maybe, likely, she’s a conductor.

Suddenly I felt I was beginning my own count to a story that seemed it ought to be too familiar. Mom had been my age.

Somewhere inside I thought that if I started dodging trains, I’d be able to outrun all trains. And I actually thought then that the dodging was all wrapped up in the cancer scare, but my fear ran much deeper.

And I had forgotten the rubric

So. I went back country camping in bear territory. I bathed in the river late into twilight. I kept my food in a poorly sealed cooler, nearby. One morning, noticing fresh bear scat, I simply took photos and sauntered off hiking.

There were other dodges too: wound myself tightly in friendships no good for me, held onto a home I had wanted to sell for years, pushed away people who loved me. And I push hard. And relentlessly. And silently. All in the muddiness of my own storied back country road.

And it was not epic.

But I was good at the dodge.

I remember sitting on my patio last summer, with Alan. The night was unseasonable warm. Jess was away for the weekend. The evening stretched long and gentle. Like that July moment was waltzing with infinity.

Reading a text message, Alan smiled and looked at me. I met his eyes. “My friend just said there’s a job, at his university… I could apply for it.”

I put my book down. “I’ve been talking about moving.”

We talked. And planned. So damn real that possibility. Those twinkle lights. Us. That summer porch.


-Though, is a two part skill. So damn Real.

I remember the months that followed. In the days following my return to school after my surgery and walks along the beach, questioning my place in the world.

Principalship postings popped up. Friends would smile, “Oh! you’d be so good. Apply.” Like a gust of wind, I felt a little like I could see the river rushing miles beneath my feet

Dek’s knowing look stayed with me. Maybe, it easier to recognize a dodger if one understands the experiences it takes to cause it.

How many train dodgers sit among us? How many see enough dodging yet listen consistently, and continue to love us through?

When I had the surgury in september and Alan wanted to come look after me. I said no. I ran home to my mom’s to conveless. I walked the beach every day, as far as my abdomine would allow.

I guess I may be the taker-of-long-ways. – not yet meeting expectations.

In the bleakness of last fall, the ground rose to meet my feet; “You know, I’ll support you in whatever you want to do, but when I hear you say you’ll die if you dont get to be a principal then go for it, but you just say this all the time about your kids. You’re so needed.” ~Alan

Yeah. Yeah Dek, I’ve dodged a few trains.

Now though, now, I. Am. Home.

1) Hope. 2) Risk

The courage to Love.

And, us.

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