Out of Bad…

My daughter Phoebe had a legendary second grade teacher. Mrs. Dooner took the kids for long afternoon walks, pointing out their neighbors’ gardens and houses, the shops and churches, giving names to  trees and  architectural details (Phoebe, who by some odd chance became an architect, taught me the difference between a Doric and a Corinthian column), giving the children eyes to see their own little slice of the world as wondrous and rich. She also taught them to memorize poetry–imagine 25 second graders chanting “Tiger Tiger, burning bright…”  And she was a font of words to live by. My favorite phrase, because I’ve had cause to use it so often, is “Out of bad comes good.”

I thought of Mrs. Dooner again this last week, as  my family on Long Island went without power day after day (one of my brothers is still in the dark as I write). In the last year or so, a number of  picture books about what technology has done to family time have been published. John Rocco’s “Blackout” , Matthew Cordell’s “Hello Hello” and Peter McCarthy’s “Chloe” are all delightful takes on how  kids can get short-changed by our addiction to devices.  In each book, it’s the youngest member of the family who leads the way back to old-time togetherness.

But those are just books, right?   Hmm. My youngest sister has two girls, 7 and 10. One night when I talked to them, they were both happily reading by flashlight. After that night’s take-out pizza, they were going to play Monopoly by the fireplace. And then they and their parents would crawl into their sleeping bags on the living room rug and snuggle down together.

After a week of this, workers from Michigan restored their power. My sister and her family stood on their front porch and cheered the heroes.  It was a hot food, hot bath night, and my sister looked forward to collapsing in front of the TV.

You can probably guess the rest.  It was the girls who wanted one more night of board games and camping out together. The novelty had turned into something else.  Hard as it can be to find the good, it’s almost always waiting on the dim edges or even at the heart of the bad. Thank you, Mrs. Dooner, for that lesson.


Here in Ohio, the sun shone and the sky was blue for the first time in 10 days on November 6. Just saying.

One thought on “Out of Bad…

  1. Dee

    Wow! I remember telling you all these things during our phone conversation but you really remembered all the details. I guess that’s just one of the things that make you such an amazing writer. I think it was a nice tribute to New York , too. I’m going to keep up with your journal. There’s so much you do that I miss. I love you so much!!

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