birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

The Least of These

In an excellent book I’m reading called “The Choice,” author Edith Eva Eger details how, for most of her time in various concentration camps, she was the strong one, strategizing to keep others healthy, even dancing with brio on demand in front of Mengele to save her life. Until one day, when she had no more strength , was burning with fever, and was on the verge of falling out of line and being shot. Then she felt hands around her grasping her and holding her up, and one young woman said, “You shared your bread”—a brief explanation for why everyone near was helping her. Small things that bring their own reward later.

When I was a buck-toothed, frizzy-haired geeky high school freshman, I went to a nature camp in Yosemite for 2 weeks with some fellow students. Though I was often prone to car sickness. I figured I was immune on this trip, since we were traveling not in a car, but a bus. As if. The bus rocked its way through swooping mountain curves, and my poor stomach got more and more troubled. I did not know what to do other than hope for the best, and try to sleep—because surely one would not get nauseous during sleep. Well, so much for another flawed assumption. There finally came a point when my poor stomach gave in, and I vomited all over myself and the floor. Since it was not possible to drop through the bus floor, right onto the highway, like some sort of embarrassed road kill, I simply squeezed my eyes shut in total mortification and denial. And dear Laurel Izmirian, my seatmate, a girl I knew somewhat but hardly an intimate friend, got up, went back to the tiny bus latrine, got endless paper towels in hand, and patiently, humbly, without little talk, helped clean up my barf. Little things

When I was a newish teacher, I had a girl in one of my classes who wrote in every weekly batch of journals about her sister, who had died within the past few years after illness, sentiments like I miss you so much. I cry and cry. I am so lonely.” The writings were heartbreaking. I wrote back little notes at the top of her paper to give encouragement, but I wished I could do more. One week’s journals talked about the pain of spending her upcoming birthday without her sibling. So one afternoon, I sent her on a fake errand to another class I’d carefully contrived. In her absence, I pulled out a birthday cake. My throat choked as I explained to the class what she had been going through. And when she returned, the class was dark and the candles glowed as we sang happy birthday. In the semi-darkness, watched some of the “hardest” boys sing with gusto, a certain rare hope on their face. Little things.

Three years ago, I had a boy in a senior class who missed many classes. I’d told his mom at parent conference this was not okay. The young man kept insisting he was taking care of this class by taking in through the somewhat controversial online courses available. I said, “Okay. Hope so. Because otherwise you’ll not be graduating.” In the last week of school he explained he wasn’t taking the alternate class after all. And that he’d been missing so much class and screwing up by skipping assignments because his recovering drug-addict dad had fallen off the wagon and the teen felt—well, angry, and lost. He assured me he assigned me no name. He promised to knock off the class in summer school. And then he handed me a beautiful wooden plaque of my name he’d carefully crafted during woodshed. I took it with mixed feelings, knowing that sometimes he skipped my class to go to work with wood. Still, the beauty, the finish, the cursive script of “Uebersax” carved deeply makes me smile to this day.

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