We often find ourselves in situations that challenge us, and we often give up on these challenges, claiming that we can’t. The next story is dedicated to every person who ever said to themselves, ‘I can’’ and my hope is that you will take this message to heart and work on your ‘I can’ because, as a wise man once said, “If you will it, it is no dream.”
Donna’s class looked like all the other classrooms. The students sat in five columns, each with six tables. The teacher’s desk was in front. On the notice board hung the works of students. It seemed a perfectly ordinary class, but something was completely different the day I walked into it for the first time – a feeling of excitement accompanied me.
Donna was a teacher in a small town in Michigan, two years before her retirement. In addition to being a teacher, she volunteered to participate in a national project I organized. The studies focused on subjects in art that would make students feel better about themselves and take responsibility for their lives. Donna had to take part in my classes and pass on to her class what was being taught in the project. My job was to visit her class and encourage this process.
I sat in an empty chair at the back of the room and watched. All the students were given the task of writing down their thoughts and ideas
A ten-year-old student sitting next to me filled her page with “I can’t” sentences. “I can’t play football”, “I can’t do long division”, “I can’t get Deborah to like me.” Her page was already half full and she showed no sign of giving up. She continued to work with determination.
I walked around the classroom and looked at the other students’ papers. They all described things they could not do. “I can’t do ten push-ups,” “I can’t climb over the fence,” “I can’t eat just one cookie.”The activity intrigued me, so I decided to check with the teacher what was going on. When I reached her, I noticed that she was also writing. I felt better not to disturb. “I can’t get John’s mother to come to the parents’ meeting,” “I can’t get my daughter to fill the car’s gas tank,” “I can’t teach Alan to use words instead of fists.”
As I tried to understand why the teacher and the students were writing negative thoughts, I went back to my place and continued to observe. For another ten minutes, they all continued to work. Most of them filled their pages, others took another page.
“Finish what you’re writing right now and don’t start a new page,” the teacher said.
The students were ordered to fold the papers and bring them to the teacher’s table. They put the papers in an empty shoebox. When all the papers were placed in a box, the teacher put the lid in place, took the box and went out into the corridor. The students followed her and I went with them.
Everyone stopped in the corridor.
Donna went into the janitor’s closet and came out with a shovel. With the shovel in one hand and the box in the other, Donna and the student convoy followed her to the farthest corner of the school playground. There Donna started digging. They were going to bury their ‘I can’t! The excavation lasted about ten minutes because all the students wanted to participate. When the hole was quite deep, the box was placed at the bottom and covered with dirt.
Thirty ten-year-olds stood around the fresh ‘grave’. Each of them had at least one “I can’t” page in the same box. And so did the teacher.
At this stage, Donna announced, “Boys and girls, please hold hands and bow your head.” They formed a circle around the pit and held hands. Donna made a speech
“Friends, we are gathered here today in memory of ‘I can’t.'” While he was with us on the face of the earth, he touched the lives of all of us, some more, some less, his name was mentioned in every public building, in schools, in municipalities, And yes, even in government offices. We erected a tombstone with “I cant’s” name engraved on it. His brothers and sisters will survive with us, ‘I can,’ ‘I will,’ and ‘I am capable.’ They are less known than their famous relative and certainly not as strong as he is. Perhaps one day, with your help, they will become stronger in our world. Rest in peace, ‘I can’t,’ and we will all continue to live our lives from this point on even in his absence. Amen”.
As I listened to the eulogy I realized that these students would never forget this day. This activity was symbolic, a metaphor for life. It was an experience that would stick in their consciousness and sub-consciousness. Writing ‘I can’t’, burying the pages and preparing a eulogy was a tremendous effort on the teacher’s part, and the ceremony was not yet over. At the end of the eulogy, they went back into the classroom and had a feast with refreshments. As part of the celebration, Donna prepared a large tombstone from cardboard. She wrote “R.I.P I Can’t” and added the date at the bottom.
As I listened to the eulogy I realized that these students would never forget this day. This activity was symbolic, a metaphor for life. It was an experience that would stick in their consciousness and sub-consciousness. Writing ‘I can’t’, burying the pages and preparing a eulogy was a tremendous effort on the teacher’s part, and the ceremony was not yet over.
At the end of the eulogy, they went back into the classroom and had a feast with refreshments. As part of the celebration, Donna prepared a large tombstone from cardboard. She wrote “R.I.P I Can’t” and added the date at the bottom.
The monument hung in Donna’s class until the end of that year. On the few occasions when one of the students forgot and said, “I can’t,” Donna pointed to the cardboard tombstone and reminded him that ‘I can’t’ is already dead.
I was not one of Donna’s students. She was my student. Still, that day she taught me a beautiful lesson.
Now, years later, whenever I hear the phrase ‘I can’t,’ I envision this unforgettable fourth-grade funeral.
Like those students, I remember that ‘I can’t’ is already dead.