“The man who cries in pain does not choose the voice with which he cries.” Ludwig Wittgenstein, German Philosopher
Daniel and Bobbie were students in my third grade class. Like all children, there was something special about each of them.
Bobbie was considered a miracle child by her middle-aged parents. Her arrival changed their retirement priorities. They placed Bobbie on imported pillows in the family room. They brought her books and watched her grow. When she entered Kindergarten, she was a fluent reader and produced elaborate plays. Her mother admitted that Bobbie had never gotten dirty. She had rarely fallen down, and anyway, there were the pillows.
Now she was in my class, an advanced reader with a technicolor imagination and the voice-over to go with it. The girls shrank from her at recess, unwilling to be cast as extras again in one of her productions.
Daniel didn’t mind taking orders from Bobbie. He didn’t talk at all himself. His mother came in with him the first few days of class. His delicate oriental features matched hers. She stood behind him at his desk and turned his head to face me.
“Listen to teacher! Do what she tell you!”
His eyes were wild to avoid mine, but his cheeks didn’t twitch against his mother’s fingers. He kept perfectly still until she nodded at me and retreated Then he turned his head back to the side and memorized every chart on the wall.
He would answer questions in writing and solve any math problems. He performed mandatory classical piano recitals. But no verbalizing. No eye contact with me or the other kids.
I watched these two opposite personalities share a canoe in the sandbox. Daniel at the fore, rowing. Captain Bobbie aft, in charge.
“Row faster! This is where the whirlpool starts! Take me over to the bank by those trees. We can stop and cook there. You’ll have to gather kindling for the fire. And don’t forget to tie up the boat so it won’t drift.”
Daniel complied, content to keep a steady rhythm with the oars.
One day I brought in a new book to read to the class: Shel Silverstein’s “The Missing Piece.” It tells the story of a circle that is missing a pie-shaped piece of itself. The circle rolls along looking for its missing piece, singing a little song. It finds many different pieces….some too small, some too big, none quite right. So the search and the song go on.
At last the circle finds the piece that fits. But a perfect circle has no mouth to sing. So gently laying down the piece, the circle chooses to continues as before, singing its little song.
As I read the last word, Daniel rose to his feet, raised one arm, and shouted, “I LIKE THAT!”
The children burst into applause. He had spoken for all of us.