The cardinal virtue of Justice represented by a seated woman holding a pair of scales and a sword (possibly a modern impression)

As I was leaving school, a kid who drove me crazy and the mom he also drives crazy were in the hallway.  “You must be Ms Schurman,” she said.  “He talks about you.”

“Oh,” I said, blah, blah, blah.  Neither of us was under the illusion that kid was easy, yet the kid has, since I taught him, continued to stop me in the hall or on the street and say, “I miss you.”

“You’re crazy,” I said.  “All I did was yell at you.  You never did anything in my class.”

“I know,” he said.

“I want you to know,” the mom said, and she put her hand on my shoulder.  “What you do, what you’ve done, is not in vain.”

Immediately my eyes were full of tears, both because of what she said, and how poetically she had said it.  “I’m sure sometimes you feel like it is, but it’s not, it’s not in vain.”

“In vain”: she was either talking from the Bible (my guess) or from Old Great Literature, and either way, I was moved.

I had an intense week.  Tuesday and Wednesday, as potential juror number five, I was being questioned on my beliefs about heroin addiction and police brutality.  I filled out my questionnaire, someone close to me is in the legal field.  Someone close to me has sued someone.  One attorney wrote on my form, next to “law enforcement”: Good experience, bad experiences from her students.  I told the attorney that addicts are great liars.

In between chats with my fellow jurors, I read about World War II, which made current events in Paris, and in my own life, seem manageable by comparison.

I was not chosen for the jury.

Thursday and Friday I was wrapping up one job and thinking ahead to another.  I am just changing schools in New York, don’t get worried, I’m still teaching and still city kids and all that.

I am amazed that I have made it this far in urban education.  Not me, particularly, but anyone, including me, who is hardly perfect for the job.

“Where is your new school, Ms Schurman?”


“Whoa!  I don’t mess with nobody from Brooklyn.”

“But I’m from Brooklyn.”


My colleagues sent me off with hours of swapping stories and hugs.

Instead of going down into the subway at my usual spot, I walked a lot more, it was cold, but there were lots of people out Friday night, in and out of restaurants and bars and theaters, like they weren’t afraid, and we aren’t.  I went into one place I had been before, upstairs, and sat for a minute and read the card one of the kids had given me.  The walls were painted red.  I took some deep breaths.  I wondered if the guy working there liked working there.

You wonder what impact you have on people, and you wonder how they have changed you.  People have buoyed you at very important moments, and you have given someone just the right book, but who, and when?

On my last day, I had the kids do surveys about what we had done that they liked.

“What was that book about the kids who dressed up?”

To Kill a Mockingbird.

“What was that book about the black family?”

A Raisin in the Sun.

There was this couple sitting next to me, they were a less glamorous version of Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter.  As I was leaving, I said, “You both have magnificent hair.”

Image: detail, “The Cardinal Virtue of Justice Represented by a Seated Woman Holding a Pair of Scales and a Sword,” Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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