Angels on the Move

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Those of you familiar with the Royster Middle School know that three of its faculty were diagnosed last year with cancer.  Trudy Gaba, Heidi Pollio, and Brooke Fox each received that news within weeks of one another.  Without going through details, you might also know that each withstood difficult and painful procedures to eradicate the tumors that threatened them. If you or someone you are close to has had to endure that fight, you know what a challenge it can be.

The last of the three to get the “all-clear” was Ms. Fox, who had her final treatment on Monday, October 30.  Many oncology centers have in the past few years put a brass bell in the waiting area which each patient rings as they leave having had their last session.  It’s a nice way for the patient to declare some sort of independence as well as to thank the members of the medical team who have served them.

So Heidi got the idea that Brooke, on behalf of the three of them, should ring the recently re-installed bell in the Bell Tower out by the Wynne-Darden Stadium.  You should be aware the primary function of the bell is to be rung by players of any Bulldog athletic team immediately after a victory.  Surrounded by the Middle School faculty, her Spanish I students, and a handful of others who had gotten the word, Brooke, fighting back tears, thanked the school community for its support.  She turned specifically to her students and asked them if they understood what a great and loving place Norfolk Academy is.  Their faces registered unanimous understanding of that fact.

DSC_9564Then the three triumphant women each took a turn at pulling the rope and the bell pealed out its message of their victory for all to hear.  For a few seconds there was no sound of trucks on Northhampton Boulevard, no worries about the English test later that day, no concerns about social issues.  For a few seconds there was simply joy.

The kids bolted back to the buildings – after all, it was “H” Bell and the bookstore beckoned.  Some leapt from the side of the inclined walkway to the bell, while others sped down the ramp, turning a quick u-turn for the main part of campus.  Faculty, not so motivated by snacks and a drink, ambled back to Royster in twos and threes, many talking about how cancer had touched their lives.  I heard two faculty members celebrating the idea of heavenly grace.  It was the kind of moment that solidifies a faculty and makes it remember that we do this thing call teaching together.

I held back for a few moments to take in the physicality of the scene.  You had 50 or 60 middle-school youngsters bobbing and weaving crazily and racing each other, really not to get to the snacks first, but instead to translate the joy of the moment into the bliss of running without tiring.  I thought to myself that in her brief words Brooke had armed the students with another tiny dose of optimism.  “We have won!” their movements said to the world, and their legs and arms signaled a confidence that nothing could stop them, especially at this moment.  And the adults, most of whom can no longer run like that without tiring, enjoyed a moment of languor, what Evelyn Waugh calls “the resting of yet-unwearied sinew.”  But they walked together, full of the thrill of the moment, ready to get back to the task of working with those remarkable young people.

I decided that I was looking at an army of angels, each moving to the beat of their stage in life.  I wondered what joy and confidence each of those angels might transfer to their friends and families.  Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely understand that your average ninth-grader was on to the next chapter in his life by the time he hit the flagpole out front.  But I insist on believing that each was also a little lifted up by what had just transpired.

All of this makes for a sweet and sentimental story, but it has an even better coda.  It turns out that English teacher Elizabeth Staub had videoed the affair with her phone and sent it to Price Massey Hall ’02, who directs our International Programs and who was at home packing to travel to England for her sister Ashley Massey’s ’00 PhD ceremony. As Price replayed the video on her phone, her daughter Mercer heard the bell and asked her mom what it was. As she was hearing the question, Price realized that little Mercer had walked across the room to satisfy her curiosity, her first steps on this Earth. That’s how far the joy had spread – to a living room miles away with such force that it caused a child to walk for the first time.

One more tiny angel on the move.

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