I am sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial scraping an Italian ice with a wooden spoon. I find myself here almost every time I visit our nation’s capital. The city has many beautiful monuments and each is unique in purpose and meaning to visitors. The war memorials command reverence and can make a grown man cry, visitors gasp while looking up at the Washington Monument, and although only a few people can find the Jefferson Memorial on the first try, there is no more beautiful place to be during the cherry blossom season. But the memorial to the 16th president of the United States lures my heart and soul. The twenty-eight Georgia marble pieces that form the statue of Abraham Lincoln provides me with a sense of serenity and security.
A teenage boy interrupts my quietude as he tries to navigate a skateboard down the front steps of the entrance. He is quickly stopped by a park ranger.
“Unbelievable,” an elderly man remarks to me. “Did you see that?
“The trouble with these damn teenagers is that they have no respect for anything. That boy could use a good kick in the ass.”
The gentleman is right about not using the memorial to learn how to kick flip down stairs on a skateboard but wrong about damning all teenagers. I came to the monument tonight because I had just finished speaking with a group of Fulbright scholars and was thinking pensively about teenagers. The Fulbright scholars I had met were a wonderful mix of teachers, each trading countries and classrooms and serving as goodwill ambassadors for education. I was impressed with the breadth of knowledge these teachers displayed and their easygoing personalities.
I began the evening sharing a table with six other educators, including a lovely woman who was the India Teacher of the Year. She was impressed with my moniker despite being named the top teacher in a country with 1 billion people; only a fellow teacher could display such humility. I reminded her that she had won the gold medal of teaching accolades. And then I enjoyed a conversation with a teacher from Israel. I learned that she is an information and communications technology (ICT) teacher trainer/educator with over 28 years of experience in the field of education. In addition to working with teachers in the ICT field, she volunteers her free time trying to bring together Israeli and Arab teenagers. She provides a forum for these teenagers to discuss the volatile environment in which they live their daily lives. A sort of mini United Nations for young people raised to distrust each other. I wondered what made her initiate such a valuable round-table.
“My son, Gavriel, was murdered several years ago by Arab terrorists,” she said.
Gavriel was murdered at the age of 17 and a half by terrorists while on kitchen duty at a Yeshiva where he studied. He was part of a group of four teenagers volunteering their time to cook dinner for a larger group of young children sitting in the school’s cafeteria. Two Arab terrorists posing as Israeli police officers entered the kitchen and shot and killed the teenagers. Gavriel was shot eight times. Yet something truly remarkable happened during this horrific slaughter: the teenagers quickly locked the door leading from the kitchen to the cafeteria as soon as they saw the gunmen. These brave young men instinctively sensed that the cafeteria was the real target of the terrorists and acted to prevent a massacre of children. They knew that their lives would soon end but acted to save the lives of many.
I did not respond to the man who wanted to kick the skateboarder in the ass because my mind was someplace else. It was in the kitchen where Gavriel sacrificed his life; a place where a few teenagers respected the value of life and living. And then I turned around to look at Lincoln’s magnificent statue and the great man’s eyes looked upon me. And I could hear his voce.
This is not a place about me. This is a cathedral for all the martyrs who have suffered and sacrificed their lives for others.
He was right. The Lincoln Memorial is a national cathedral for martyrs.
Lincoln and Gavriel were struck down by an assassin’s bullets and both left our earthly world too soon. On April 15, 1865, at 7:22 am, a doctor put his hand across the president’s chest and whispered, “He is gone.” A minister asked God to accept his humble servant Abraham Lincoln into His glorious kingdom. Everyone in the room knelt beside the bedside and remained quiet until Secretary of War Edwin Stanton proclaimed, “Now he belongs to the ages.”
So, too, do you Gavriel.
The opinions expressed in Road Diaries: 2009 Teacher of the Year are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.