Monday, May 10, 2010

An Irish Blessing

Had the opportunity to take part in an after school activity with my son last week. Some of you that are fortunate enough to live here in our little corner of Texas may have seen the local news reporting on this story, but you missed out on the best part.

James T. O'Brien, better known as Mr.O'Brien to the huddled mass of students at West Brook High School here in Beaumont, Texas; is what is known and described as a 'permanent substitute' teacher.

That in itself is a new phrase to me. A permanent substitute 'anything' rings of an oxymoron; several of which we have in our world today.

Take for instance the couple of examples I have here.

Jumbo shrimp. Calling someone a shrimp usually refers to the smaller stature of the individual. Putting jumbo in front of shrimp, are they now extra small?

What about a near miss. C'mon folks...a near miss is just wrong. If you nearly miss something, did you not actually hit it?

Getting back on track and as I understand it, our story's subject today has a new challenge in his life. Mr.O'Brien has been diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer. Quite honestly, the news made a stir among the student body and resulted in a form of benefit for their favorite permanent substitute.

The idea of a t-shirt sale highlighting one of many traits that Mr.O'Brien shares daily with the students. At the start of every class he subs for, he gives the class an Irish blessing in writing on the chalk board or dry erase board, whatever they use nowadays. Now mind you these blessings are written in the traditional Gaelic language and widely unknown are the definitions of each blessing. As does every t-shirt that was sold, each has a specific blessing emblazoned across the chest.

Last week on a Wednesday, all the students that had purchased a t-shirt were asked to wear them to class so that a group picture could be taken for the yearbook. Well over a hundred students were prepared for the event which also was covered by a local television station that was aired later that day on the 2 nightly news casts.

What you didn't see was the well organized cross-town trek of about 40 or 50 students, all clad in their green t-shirts to pay an unexpected visit to Mr.O'Brien's home. The intent was to show their love and respect for the man as a mentor and to present him with the proceeds from the t-shirt sale.

Now this cross-town trek would cover maybe 10 miles or so. We would be faced with several different obstacles like traffic lights, getting caught by a train, 5 o'clock traffic, and a line of twenty or so cars and trucks trying to stay in a single line so as not to get lost. My son and I brought up the end of the line and to my best guess as we witnessed the caravan snaking across town, there were probably at least one or as many as sixteen different traffic violations committed but the end result, we all arrived safe and sound at the designated point.

Upon arrival at the LZ (landing zone) the group was instructed as to just how and what they would do from this point on.

When was the last time you saw 40 something teenagers together and actually listened to the instructions and were talking just above a whisper? Yeah, thought's been a while.

Being the only parent in the vicinity, I tagged along the right flank of the group, not realizing that I was about to witness an historic event. From a close distance (oxymoron) across the street I watched the group as they crossed the parking lot, enter into the street all along walking quietly, and into the yard of Mr.O'Brien.

The leader while walking backwards held up a few fingers in a muted countdown to the group and on key began shouting out the mantra to draw out their target of the day...

"O'Brien, O'Brien, O'Brien" The normally 2 syllable pronounced name became at least 3 and sounded like they were saying... oh-bry-enn, oh-bry-enn.

Shortly after about the fourth or fifth shout, Mr.O'Brien appeared at the door of his patio. The meeting would last about an hour which only an innocent bystander would have noted.

There were one on one conversations, laughter, and probably a few tears, oh wait, those might have been mine due to watching our youth of today, taking time out of their afternoon to exhibit the love from the student body to an individual who happened to have chosen a career so many years ago to reach out and make a difference in the lives of children.

As time elapsed, each one of the students were sent off with yet another Irish blessing written across the shoulders of their personal O'Brien t-shirt. Only to be told, that upon each student's graduation, would they learn the meaning of the phrase, no make that the definition of the blessing Mr.O'Brien gave each one.

I am not sure who received the blessing that day, the students, Mr.O'Brien, or myself.