I just returned from the 2019 National Art Education Association (NAEA) Convention in Boston, where over 6,500 art teaching professionals and leaders in education convened. I went to learn and to present (an altered books studio workshop) and to hang out with friends. Before I left Memphis, my amazing principal gave me her blessing and said, text me if something really cool happens. Well, here it is. However, this story is a little long for texting. Sorry for the length, I just can’t leave out any of these details.
NAEA has always brought in incredible keynote speakers. This year was no exception. We were dazzled by Amy Sherald (the Michelle Obama portrait artist). And then on Saturday, we had the opportunity to hear an icon of pedagogical circles, Dr. Howard Gardner (Theory of Multiple Intelligences). Any student of education should recognize that name and most graduate students in the field of education have not only studied his work, but also cited it. I got there early (5th row, center section, aisle seat). He received several standing ovations and cheers as well as an award from NAEA. As all 6,500 of us filed out of the auditorium empowered with his former research and enlightened by his continued research, I called a colleague who had left the convention early and recapped the experience while it was still fresh. I thought about all of the students and teachers who must have felt lost until discovering his multiple intelligence theory. That mathematical intelligence is not the only intelligence to consider…how artists employ all of the intelligences..how “wit” and “grit” are important, but we should never neglect, “the good.”
In the next few hours that would follow this meaningful general session, I would witness first-hand “the good” of others--perfect strangers who empathized and genuinely cared about my loss as if it was their loss too. As the story unfolded, I would be on the receiving end of the golden rule, which Howard Gardner had also referenced in his lecture, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”
I had worn boots that day, because I wanted to get them shined in the mall attached to the Hyde Convention Center. When I finally climbed into the chair for them to be shined, the person in the chair next to me looked at my hand and asked, “What happened to your ring?”
When I looked at my wedding engagement ring, I saw that my diamond was gone! I panicked, jumped out of the chair dumped my purse contents on the floor in a desperate effort to find my diamond. Nothing. I walked over to a table to empty the contents of my convention bag. Nothing. I looked on the floor as I walked through a café I had visited earlier. Nothing. Then I remembered that I had been to the women’s restroom earlier..oh no, the sink! I rushed to the sink upon the advice of someone who saw me searching. Nothing was in the sink, but could it be in the drain? Or stall? While I waited for someone to leave the stall, I called my husband back home in Tennessee to let him know I had lost my diamond. His reassuring words made me even more emotional...about how he loved me more than the diamond..he would buy me another...not to cry...it’s just a thing…But I responded that I wanted that diamond...not another. It was that diamond that he had worked all summer 40 years ago in sweltering heat at a loading dock to pay off before we were married. It was that diamond that he chose from a tray of diamonds the jeweler had offered. It was that diamond that I saw for the first time when he asked me to be his wife. At this point, I’m sobbing and art teachers I don’t even know hear me and are coming out of the stalls to comfort and reassure me...also my dear friend Janis Nunnally was there..just when I needed her organizing, thinking, and problem solving (like any art teacher would). This group of art teachers reassured me by reminding me that they were, “visual people.” “If anybody can find it, we can!” We then looked in the stall, it wasn’t there either. One of the art teachers I didn’t know, even got down on the floor of the stall to look for it. A humbling sight I will never forget.
We then approached the security desk, asked them about removing the sink trap to see if it had fallen through. I felt there was a strong possibility that it was there, but we had to wait for a facilities manager to get the right equipment. So, I kept searching until that could be done. At this point, others surrounded me...mostly art teachers..caring, hugging, weeping. They tried reassuring me, I told them that I believed that everything happens for a reason, and that maybe someone would find it who needed their rent money...That would be more important than my sentimentality, I suppose. Still I continued to retrace my steps, pausing where I’d had a conversation on the phone with my friend. Then pausing at the desk where I’d inquired about the convention and then on to a trash bin where I’d thrown away my coffee cup. At this point two guards willingly took the trash bag out of the public trash and took it to a back room to sift through the garbage. I cannot say enough about their concern and empathy. Boston’s finest. While they searched, I continued my way up to the elevator I had ridden in earlier, hoping it would be stuck in the corner…Nothing.
Exiting the elevator, I made my way back to the auditorium where 3 hours earlier, I had experienced the highlight of the conference. Another smaller presentation was in session. The lights were dimmed except for the presenter’s spotlight. This time, I was not drawn by who was speaking on the stage. I was genuinely focused only on finding that diamond. I walked as discreetly as possible to the place where I had sat earlier, scouring the floor as I walked.
When I got to my seat, an art teacher I’d never met, Rebecca Belleville from Baltimore, Maryland, was sitting there. She kept her seat but moved her things over so I could sit next to her, not knowing, of course, why I’d come to this presentation. I sat down and motioned to my empty ring. I mouthed, “I’ve lost my diamond and I was sitting in your seat earlier.” Her expression was priceless. She gasped a little, “Oh no!” At that point she joined me in looking on the floor from our seats as quietly as possible while the presentation was still going on. Then as graceful as a swan, she reached down to the floor next to her chair, picked up the diamond and simply handed it to me. We were both stunned, so stunned that I had to sit there for a moment or two to let it all sink in. We then we wept together. I thanked her profusely and left the auditorium to go back and get word to everyone that the diamond had been found.
In reflecting on this miraculous experience throughout the day, my thoughts went to community of people who’d helped, who took the mission of finding my diamond as if it were their own, from the amazing art teachers, to the security staff, to the man who was about to shine my boots. He was, perhaps, the most elated. Maybe it will become his favorite story to tell others as he shines their shoes. Maybe it will give them hope when other more serious situations are dominating their thoughts.
Then my thoughts went to what that diamond represents. The child who is lost. Lost in a world where he/she does not quite fit in. Fallen from a setting that seemed so perfect into a crowd filled with people who walk by with other agendas, like me sometimes, even ignoring the missing, the lost, the “misfits.” Or worse, believing that they are a bother to our plans--to our perfect “setting.” During all of this, someone had asked me if the ring was, “insured,” an honest question, but the value of the stone to me was much greater than any appraised value. It was never about the ring, anyway. It was always about the diamond.
Mother Teresa said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” If everyone focuses on their own personal agenda, they will miss the opportunity to be part of something truly wonderful and fulfilling. As a community of art teachers and leaders in education, we are the ones who seek out and rescue those “diamonds in the rough.” They are precious to us. We find them and give them a safe place for personal expression. The art room is the setting where they find a place to shine. After all, we are visual people. If anyone can find them…we can!