The middle school where I worked for over ten years burned the other day. The school had stood for fifty years on land donated by a local family whose name still made the paper for various philanthropic or charitable happenings. Some of my colleagues, retired for some years now, remembered its early years with nostalgia and fondness, when it was new and full of the colors and energy of the seventies, . The old building was a treasured part of the community. More than a few parents had attended, loving the place enough to want their own children to attend. Several colleagues also attended, returning as teachers to further contribute to the notion that the school was, after all, really a large family.
I have no sense of loss; I found the building to be old, tired, and cramped. We are now in a beautiful new building that provides the amenities a twenty-first century school needs. But I know that many disagree that the move is all good; many felt a sense of community that was built within the cramped spaces. And there is always a loss when we destroy the old to make way for the new. There is a happy ending to this story. With or without the fire, the school is to be demolished and land to become a park.
I offer this poem in tribute.
A School Fire
The school burned early on a Sunday.
For the first time in fifty years, it had stood lonely and empty-abandoned and slated for demolition.
Given no farewell ceremony, no parting words, no thank you from the generations that had walked its halls it stood alone.
For half a century, it had provided the shelter for countless students to create memories of middle school.Now it stood, scarred and damaged. The added indignity of the fire’s damage being at the front of the building-visible for all to gawk at and exclaim, “how sad!”
The lawn, where, on spring days, students had enjoyed a toss of the football, a few minutes of gossip under the portico, or the simple pleasure of taking in the sun was now broken brick and concrete, toppled from the walls above.
It was the gym that had burned, its gleaming, parquet wood floor was buckled and blackened where generations of students had played basketball, danced their first slow dance, seen their first Shakespeare play.
The curtains that had once opened countless shows, everything from Seussical, Jr. to The Sound of Music, Jr. to High School Musical, Jr. were blackened rags, hanging from the scaffolding.
Here, within the shelter of these curtains, children dressed as elephants, boys played at being fathers, and girls put on a nun’s habit. All tried on new roles and, for many, acted for the first time. Everyone was given the space and chance to be something different-provided a place to imagine.
Backstage, with its alluring and mysterious darkness full of memories of past shows, where countless members of the tech crew and cast had left a “I was here!”note in their giddy adolescent excitement was now shattered by the weight of the fallen roof.
All of this drama will soon rely only on the memories of those who were there.
Given no eulogy, only a hastened date for demolition, deemed dangerous now for the children who were once sheltered by its walls, it stands blackened, waiting for the final indignity.