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One True Thing

By Jennie LaFortune

I sat in the living room with the window open trying to cool off after Sunday dinner. Crickets competed with the TV, providing background noise for other attentions. I half listened to a report on the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 and the lunar landing– one of many programs that had dotted the media for the last few days. I gave the other half of my attention to an article I saw while scrolling on my phone. My eyes went to the middle of the page where large block font cited Hemingway’s well-known quote, “All you have to do is write one true sentence.”

“Hey, Mom?”

“Yes?”

“What would you say is one true thing?” “Like, if you had to write one true sentence right now what would you write?”

She didn’t look up from straightening or organizing, and casually said, “I watched men land on the moon while I floated in a swimming pool.”

I smiled, adjusted my sloth-like position into a more upright posture and pressed for more information. I vaguely remembered hearing about this years ago, but I wanted to know more.

“Wait, was this a huge party or big event? Are there pictures? Do you remember what you thought or talked about? Who was there watching with you?”

The imagery charmed me. There was something profound about picturing a family, my family, casually watching two men make history as they walked on the moon—the very moon that made the pool water glisten around them. It felt like a moment. My mom was a teen in 1969, the oldest child of 4, and after my continued prying for a great story, she said, “I really don’t remember much. My dad brought out the small television and we watched the landing live outside as I sat in the pool.”

I did my best detective work and dug for more play-by-plays, but she finished her thought by adding, “I don’t think I grasped the gravity of the moment until much later. I swam in our pool almost every hot summer Vegas night, so while I knew it was something special, I didn’t realize what a huge deal it was until years later.”

I smiled, laid back into the couch, and continued watching the show.

I thought about how the huge deal was both that people figured out a way to get to the moon, and that she was safe, relaxing in a pool, surrounded by her family.

* * *

Last Saturday, August 3, 2019 I went with a friend to get our back to school/teaching pedicures. While there I got a text that said, “Did you hear about El Paso?” I had not. I knew what the response would be before I even asked what happened. I knew it was going to say there was another mass shooting.

Because one true thing is that these events have become routine and expected. I sat in my literal seat of luxury and privilege as someone pampered me and I felt complete disgust and exhaustion, unable to fully comprehend the depth of grief I knew people were in the thick of at that very minute. There is nuance, there is heat, and there is controversy surrounding the discussions on guns, violence, and racism. I’m not looking for a debate, but for grace to express how some dots have connected in my world. This topic can become sanctimonious and words are never enough, but maybe they’re a place to remind and seek for more instruction and action. It’s what Meg Walter said, “You know all this. But I’m reminding you. Because I’m tired. And I’m sad. And I don’t think we have to live like this.” I appreciate people sharing stories and using their voice, knowledge, and view of the world to fight for solutions.

Last year I was teaching and the students were quietly working when we heard a few loud, fast bangs. My students jumped. One covered his head, another got out of her seat. My legs took my body to hastily slam the door. After a few seconds when we realized someone in the hall dropped a few heavy textbooks, everyone breathed big sighs, and then a slow comment or two rumbled through class about how they had been sure in that moment the sound was a gun. As teens sat in school and heard someone’s books drop, their first thoughts were that they were under attack.

After a few minutes when students were finishing up and getting ready to go to their next class, someone said, “What do you think our future kids will think when we tell them we were afraid of getting shot at school, or the movies, or the store?” Another chimed in, “Or maybe they’ll be so used to it it won’t be that surprising.” Another piped up and said, “No, it’s going to be different.” And we kind of all mumbled, “Ya, let’s hope.”

And I wondered what we will think when we look back at this point in time. What will the years of hindsight and view of the world give us? How will the reports tell the story? When someone asks me where I was, what was I doing, what we thought about this time in history, what will we say? It always seems a little clearer looking back, like my teen mom in the pool watching men land on the moon in the care of her own backyard. She had a very different view of the moon and world than the astronauts, scientists, or control room that day. And yet she remembers there was something significant about that night.

My one true thing for now is that this moment in time is also significant. For lots of reasons. Our voices matter and I’m trying to practice using mine. Even when it feels exhausting or hopeless, but it is a betrayal of truth, and I believe of God, when the basics of humanity and sanctity of life are not fought for on behalf of all. Like my student who said it’s going to be different, we have the choice and power to make that happen. That sounds huge, and daunting, much like the moon, but the moon also gives off light, just like belief.

I like what Ai Yazawa said, “[That] even when the moon looks like it’s waning…it’s actually never changing shape. Don’t ever forget that.”

About Jennie LaFortune

(Prose Board) is from Salt Lake. Figuring life out one book, beach, road trip, museum, and front porch conversation at a time. Perpetually on the search for the best dark chocolate, finest pen, and greenest field. When she's not teaching high school, she loves to spend time with friends and family, the shore of any ocean, holding her friends' babies, or taking long neighborhood walks.

3 thoughts on “One True Thing”

  1. Thank you for sharing how you are responding to these acts of violence in public places and how that affects you and your students in a school setting. I feel a range of emotions and a jumble of thoughts. I don't know how to focus and respond in a meaningful way. Reading this nudged me closer to responding in a way that doesn't make everything worse. I hope with your student that this will be an aberration in US history and not a new norm.

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