On Teaching and Learning / Washington, DC / by Amanda Oliver

Radical Face’s "Welcome Home" is on in this familiar coffee shop and I remember when it took on deeper meaning for me than liking the lyrics and chords. I was coming out of the Dupont Circle Metro on the side with a Walt Whitman quote engraved on the walls. One of my students I worked with during my librarian practicum had committed suicide back home in Buffalo. Rising up into the sunlight, the song came on shuffle and I smiled with tears because I had a bench to go to. I knew a place where I could sit with this kind of thing. I felt I was home. For better or worse, I was home.

My second grade students used to do a yearly science project where they studied the growth of plants. They’d position seeds in waded up and wet paper towels and place them in Dixie cups labeled with their names in colored marker. Their assignment was to study how the plants grew in different areas of the classroom and make a hypothesis. Would the plants in direct sunlight on the windowsill grow faster or slower or taller than the plants away from sun in the top of their cubbies? Six-year-olds do not know the obvious answers to these things.

Sometimes they would come in for library and one student would announce for another: “John Paul’s plant died!” John Paul would start to cry and the other students would comfort him, “Daniela’s is turning brown, too.” They loved charting the growth and giving a daily report on whose plant had sprouted roots overnight and whose looked like it was dying. There were daily arguments for these three or four weeks and it was very little about the science of why for them. They were more interested in what was happening and who was “winning” than proving or disproving their original hypothesis (much to their classroom teachers dismay).

I read a line in a book this morning that said, “People adapt. People change. You can grow where you’re planted.” and I keep thinking about these Dixie cup experiments. How we all partake in versions of it as we get older. How one day I grew roots and the next they started to brown. How I held on to light and grew back again. How, eventually, towards the end I think, I grew into whatever it was my seed was meant to grow to.

When the experiment was over, whatever plants had survived found a home on the school’s rooftop garden. None of the students were angry with one another by then, only glad to be a part of the transfer process.

I think perhaps any second home is like that. You survive and get transported to a garden. Sunlight and rain and all of the elements can reach you. And I think--my hypothesis is--part of who you are will always grow there.