First Responders

Formidable Maiden of the Fountain, Central Market, Valencia, Catalonia, Spain
She strode from the chaos
With an extraordinary self-possession
Intent on some minor stain or damage to her frock
As if all that mattered in this world
Was her appearance in it

It was impossible to know
If her composure reflected disoriented shock
Or disdain for the physical danger
She had not yet entirely escaped
Until she let the hem fall down her thigh
Turned her attention toward her destination

Determined steps splashed a path
In a straight line through flotillas of shattered debris
Which seemed to have drifted in a pattern
Intended to allow her unobstructed exit
Books, papers, and various other shards of detritus
Drifted in the eddies of unsettled water
Which she cleaved like a great ship through choppy seas

In countenance and action
She exhibited a formidable and resolute presence
Like the war film fantasy of the battalion commander
Who leads his troops through a barrage
Of bullets and shrapnel
Upright, undeterred, intent not on the enemy
But the objective beyond their defensive lines

And there was I
Flooded with awe and gratitude
Huddled among the dozen or more students
Safe on high ground
Who were her objective

She had returned
She had returned

“Stay here!” she’d shouted at us
Disentangling herself from small, pleading hands
In the moments ago which had passed like hours
“There may be others inside!”

I’m not sure whether it’s courage, duty or necessity
Or something else altogether
Which urges a gentle, diminutive art teacher
To reenter an elementary school
Still flooding with the tsunami’s swell

I don’t know that her example provides
A lesson to be taught or learned
About our human condition
Beyond the acknowledgement
Such indomitable spirit is possible
For any of us
Even from those we’d least expect

But it’s a question I consider every day
As I welcome my students to class
Accompanied by the hope I am never confronted
With an answer-illuminating experience
For myself or my students

I am forever grateful to her
For bestowing upon me
And we small number of children that day
Both the evidence for the lesson
And the gift of life so I could someday teach it

Even more grateful am I
She survived the catastrophe
To become again
The gentle, diminutive art teacher
From whom I also learned
My abilities as artist and teacher
Would be better served by words
Than paint brushes

I still like to paint

Formidable Maiden of the Fountain
Central Market
Valencia, Spain

Taken during travels, 2019