Sunday, August 18, 2013


The best thing about my work at Merrimack Hall is the people I get to know...old and young, from all backgrounds and with all levels of ability, from every ethnic group and with every sort of religious world has expanded exponentially from having our students, their families and our volunteers in my life. While everyone involved with The Johnny Stallings Arts Program brings something unique to the table, its our students who have most impacted me and my view of the world. I say all the time that I've learned more from people who our society tells us are "less than" than I've ever learned from anyone who's "normal!"

Take Noah, for example. The oldest of eight children, Noah is a senior at Grissom High School. He loves being in Project UP and never fails to steal the show in some way - a natural born showman, Noah has impeccable timing and a freedom of expression that is a joy to watch. Noah is in love with another one of our students, Katie. They have big plans for the future, which include getting married when they turn 25, going to Hollywood on their honeymoon and making a film they've written entitled "Katie's Big Break." Click on the link below in a new window to see why I find Noah so fascinating! You have to hear him speak before you read the rest of this blog - he's hilarious!

Last fall, I was out of town for a week. The staff told me that when Noah arrived for Project UP, he became quite agitated that I wasn't in the office. He wanted to know where I was, when I was coming back, why in the world I had to go anywhere in the first place. His agitation was escalating and just when my team thought Noah was going to have a complete come-apart, it was time for class to start. All the kids made their way up to the dance studio and Noah forgot about being upset over my absence.

The following week, I made it a point to be waiting at the front door for Noah's arrival. I had heard that Katie was sick with a sinus infection and had missed a few days of school and that Katie's mom, Lori, was sick with pneumonia. When Noah walked through the door and saw me, he screwed his face up tight. The tears started flowing and as we hugged, his tears turned to sobs - albeit, highly overly dramatic sobs. The conversation we had went like this, with Noah doing his over-the-top sobbing thing the entire time he was talking:

"Where in the world were you last week?"

Noah and Katie at The Connection
"I was in Greenville, South Carolina visiting my daughter."

"Why? That wasn't necessary, was it?"

"Yes, Noah. My daughter just moved there and I was helping her move into her apartment."

"That doesn't really seem necessary to me. Couldn't she do that by herself?"

"No, Noah. She couldn't. She needed my help. But I'm back now. How has your week been?"

"Oh, Debra, it's been horrible. How long does this pneumonia thing last?"

"Noah, does Katie have pneumonia? I thought it was her mom who has it."

"No, Katie doesn't have it yet but I'm sure she will get it soon. Miss Lori has it and its been forever and I miss my future wife!" He was really sobbing at this point.

"Noah, calm down. Katie probably won't get pneumonia - she just has a sinus infection. And Miss Lori will be better very soon...she just has to take it easy for a few weeks."

"And if everything weren't bad enough, I had to ride here with Mrs. Hulgan and I like Mrs. Hulgan but she's not Miss Lori. I really only like to ride with Miss Lori and I just know that this is going to go on for a really long time..." (at this point, he walked to the wall, put his forehead against it and started beating on the wall with his fists. Other parents were standing around and I looked at them, saying behind Noah's back, "Hey, could someone give me a hand here?" But it was so very amusing that they just watched and laughed, telling me I was on my own). "I JUST MISS MY FUTURE WIFE SO MUCH!"

Having heard her name, Mrs. Hulgan walked up to us and said, "Noah, did you need something from me?"

"Am I going to have to ride in your car again after today?"

"Yes," Mrs. Hulgan replied. "Remember? We are carpooling now. You are riding with me every third Tuesday."

Noah looked at me with disgust and panic. "I HATE CARPOOLING!"

I said, "Noah, you don't need to get yourself so upset. Katie will be back in school in another day or two. Now we're going to have a fun class today so let's come on inside and see who else is here."

"I don't care who's here if Katie isn't here. You have no idea how this feels! I love Katie so much and I just know she's going to die!"

Noah in "My North Pole Adventure"
All of the adults within earshot struggled not to burst out laughing as Noah wailed his anguish over missing his girlfriend and over the prospect of her impending death.

"I know exactly what's going to happen," Noah continued. "Katie is going to get pneumonia and die because that's what happened to my grandmother and my grandfather was never the same again. That's what happens - you get married and you are married for a really long time and then you die. I will be so upset when that happens to Katie."

"Okay, Noah, you've got to get a grip on yourself. Now, look at me in the eyes. Do you know how many years I've been married?"

"No," he sniffled.

"I've been married for 27 years. Do you think that's a long time?"


"Do I look like I'm about to die?"


"Okay. You and Katie are going to get married when you're 25 and you're going to be married for a really, really long time before either one of you is old enough to die. Katie will be back in school soon and it's time for you to get up to class."

Noah turned and looked intently at me.

"Now that I think about it, you don't look so great after all."

How do you respond to something like that...something so completely honest? He was right - I didn't look too great that day, maybe I did look like I was on the verge of death. Unlike you and me, Noah tells it like it is, calls it as he sees it. His open and keen observations on everything are always right on the money. And we think he's the one who's different?

Each time I'm around Noah, I tell myself that I'm going to start being more honest and up front in my communications with others, that I'm going to tell people how I feel with as much honest emotion as Noah does. He will tell anyone who asks how much he loves Katie - how many "normal" 18-year-old boys would do that? But it's hard to break old habits and I constantly find myself talking with others in a guarded manner, trying to measure my words.
Noah and Katie at prom 2013

Of course, we can't just blurt out the first thing that comes to our minds - "You're not looking too great after all," may not be something we should say to someone but there should be a happy medium between the mind games we play with others and Noah's raw honesty. I'm going to keep looking for that balance and watching Noah for clues on how to attain it, knowing that he will always keep me laughing!

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