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Rick Lavoie

Oklahoma, OK

November 2002

October….this month has been, historically, the best and busiest month of the year for those of us who toil in the vineyards of Learning Disabilities. In the 1960's, October was dubbed "Learning Disabilities Month" and many regional organizations select this autumnal month to hold their annual conferences. Since October 1, I have delivered seminars and workshops in Virginia, Pennsylvania, California, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois and Ohio. A busy month, indeed.

As always, my travels gave me an opportunity to hear about exciting new programs, make new friends and see some former colleagues. Having directed a residential school for a decade, I also meet alumni parents and students on my journeys. Despite the post 9/11 hassles of security, long lines and reduced airline schedules, I enjoy my travels because of my contacts with parents and professionals who care for and care about kids who struggle.

My October journeys brought me face-to-face with two unique American Tragedies. I was in Richmond, Virginia during the height of the sniper's terrifying shooting spree. I traveled from Boston by train because of a major storm that threatened to cancel my scheduled flight. As the Amtrak passed cities and towns in the DC area, it was remarkable to see the mall parking lots and gas stations empty and lifeless. Folks were paralyzed by the randomness of the carnage. Victims died in the midst of the simplest of daily tasks - getting gas, shopping, waiting for a bus.

While I was in Richmond, an announcement was made that the local junior soccer league (8-to-12 year olds) would hold their weekend tournament at a local army base. The announcement assured parents that the field would be ringed with military vehicles in order to insure that there would be no clear "line of fire" from the surrounding woods. Wow! It's a tough time to be a kid. Deliver us from evil.

My month was filled with highlights -but the highest of highlights was my October 28th visit to Oklahoma City. I was delivering the keynote session and a seminar for the Oklahoma Learning Disabilities Association. As often occurs, the event's sponsors offered to meet me at the airport and take me to dinner on the day that I arrived. Sounded great! I enjoy this ritual and it provides me with an opportunity to learn about the unique pleasures and pressures that professionals experience in that particular region.

On this particular day, I arrived at the Oklahoma City Airport and was met by three mid-career special education teachers. At least 90% of America's special educators are female, so I was surprised to see that all three of my greeters were men. Dressed in jeans, boots and Sooner's sweatshirts, they looked like authentic Oklahomans! They announced that we would be dining at "The Cattleman" restaurant and Bar-b-que….a welcome departure from the bistros and "fine cuisine restaurants" where I often dine in such situations! The food was authentically great and the company was even greater. The four of us ate too much and talked too loudly! We joked, cajoled, kidded and laughed. We spoke of the World Series, the NFL, movies, TV and cars. Our fellow diners must have thought that the four of us were lifelong friends! The conversation flowed boisterously!

However, occasionally the table got quiet. We spoke in hushed tones. We leaned in closely and listen intently to one another. This occurred when we spoke of our passion…our mission…our STUDENTS. These three rough-and-tumble guys would suddenly become misty-eyed and reflective as we swapped stories of the kids we work with everyday. We talked of our successes and our failures…. our victories and our defeats. My three new friends - Paul, Joe and Randy - laughed heartily about their kids….but never at their kids. Their demeanor reflected such a deep respect and affection for the students they serve.

It occurred to me how fortunate their students were to have such positive male role models. Boys need this. They need to see - firsthand - the way in which adult males interact and enjoy one another's company. Our media tends to portray adult males as buffoonish, insensitive oafs who are incapable of an intelligent or meaningful thought. The boys who work with Paul, Randy and Joe have an opportunity to see that guys can be warm, generous and even spiritual…and still be guys! What a life lesson.

As we discussed our careers and goals, Randy made a remark that blew me away!! He is a career teacher who has taught all over the world to a wide variety of children, youth and adults. He has only recently joined the ranks of special educators. His wisdom, generosity, sense of purpose and dedication serve to make him a "natural" for this field. In the course of the conversation he said, "Y'know I can't save every kid in my high school classes. There are some kids that I just won't be able to reach. But my job is to do everything I can to KEEP THAT KID IN SCHOOL so - when the teacher who can reach him comes along - the kid will be there." Wow. Perfect.

Randy was right. We can't "save every kids." We simply can't. But we need to remain ever mindful of the ancient credo of physicians:

"To cure sometimes, to relieve often, to comfort always."

After dinner, my three new friends drove me to the Oklahoma City National Memorial that is dedicated to the victims of the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Building. It was a misty, foggy evening and this lent an eerie beauty to the Memorial site. The stillness of the expansive reflecting pool and the 168 backlit empty chairs are unforgettable. A large oak tree that miraculously withstood the blast stands as a lasting memorial to the survivors of the horror of April 19, 1995.

The most impressive feature of the Memorial site is the fact that it is not dedicated solely to the innocent folks who died on that day. Rather, it is dedicated to "all the persons whose lives were changed" as a result of the bombing…the deceased, the injured, the rescue workers, the witnesses, and the surviving families. The goal of the memorial is that we shall never forget the impact that violence, hate and evil can have on the innocents…and our capacity to be generous, heroic and giving in the face of tragedy and need. Great message.

I had a great month! How about you?

With every good wish,

Rick