Weight and Weightless

Weight and Weightless

When I look back at this blog, which I’ve been writing for 10 months now, I see a recurring theme: weight. I write about the crushing weight of budget deficits. I write about the burden of the past. I write about carrying my wife’s dog, minutes after she died, and what it felt like to feel the weight of her life slip away. I write about the weight of parenthood and how a principal at one of our schools needed to take time to be with her child, stricken with a severe heart problem. I write about the genesis of our schools and our mission to address the childhood obesity epidemic in Baltimore City.

Though I also wrote about other things, I seem to return to the weight of things more often than not. I need to do so again this time, as a myriad of things—bits and pieces of images and reflections and memories—weigh on my mind.

The central paradox of education, it seems to me, is concurrently relieving children of external burdens, to the extent this is possible, so they can have a little space to learn and know and grapple with what Ta-Nehisi Coates refers to as the weight of our history.

Most mornings for the past month I’ve opened the school day at Brehms Lane. A colleague, Paul Banks, and I play touch-football with a group of 15 or 20 boys before school starts. Paul is the quarterback. I’m the referee. The kids scatter about the field and hustle, play after play, to score or defend, to catch a ball or an elusive runner. We play on a hillside. I recall my own childhood, when I used to play football with my friends. Our field was also a hill, someone’s backyard. The best play was to sweep uphill to begin with and then, when the defenders’ legs shortened against the incline, switchback in a flash and race down the yard, energized and performance-enhanced by the decline, and whip around the corner, weightless and free, for a score.

Football. America’s most popular game. But now television ratings are plummeting for the NFL. There are multiple reasons, including controversy surrounding Anthem-kneeling, an owner calling players inmates, over-exposure, over-commercialization, lack of quality competition. All these things have taken their toll. So, too, has the violence. In the Ravens game last Thursday, a 40-0 win by Baltimore, the two most memorable plays were the vicious hit on Joe Flacco, which knocked him out of the game, and a choking incident. In a different era, mommas were advised not to let their babies grow up to be cowboys. It’s football they should fear now. As much as I love the game, it’s hard to watch something that leads to destruction of peoples’ bodies and brains. Earl Campbell was my favorite player as a kid. He was a singular athlete. He wore tear-away jerseys, so when defenders grabbed on to his massive shoulders they slipped away, holding nothing but shreds of his uniform. Campbell is crippled now, as are many of the other football heroes from my youth. Some have died from the game’s after effects.

Tunbridge held a SuperHero Fun Run this Monday. The event was sponsored by the school’s PTO. What an event! Friends and family sponsored the little ones, who then ran around in circles, skipping through the air, wondrously weightless, joined by moms and dads and teachers dressed up like Wonder Woman, Bat Man, and various other supernatural, superhuman beings. The music thumped out loud. The sun poured over the lot. The leaves ruffled in the surrounding trees. We barely heard the gunshots just down the street.

At the corner of York Rd. and Woodbourne, one day last week: A woman walking north, many months pregnant, carrying a toddler with one arm, using her belly to assist, holding the hand of still another young one, struggling to keep up, a foot or two behind, a ripped bag of Doritos in his off-hand. I could have turned right-on-red. I should have. The smoke from her cigarette, somehow clamped between two of her fingers, startled me. One woman carrying too much weight, I thought. Green. Go.

Other thoughts: The weight of a former president’s hand inappropriately touching a woman, standing beside his wheelchair. The weight of our current president’s daily tweets, and their attempt to intervene and disrupt our daily lives. The weight of newsmen and Hollywood men overpowering woman with their weight. Stop.

Every day I step onto the scale. Madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the scale to say something different. So many of my loved ones and colleagues do daily battle with their weight every single day. One friend, through determination and effort, has lost over a hundred pounds in the past year. A husband and wife faced down health problems by changing their diets, their commitment to exercise, the way they think about family. They are thriving! My wife gets up early every morning, long before dawn, to spin and pump it up and sweat: she’s engaged in a friendly game of war with weight and she’s winning. A young girl cries, I’m told, because her father has told her that she weighs too much. Her mom comforts her, tells her she does not. Mom is right.

Not everyone wins at weight, I know. It’s a hard game to play. It’s complicated. It’s emotional. We can’t all be Julia Child, who once quipped, "Everything in moderation…including moderation."

"A calm and humble life will bring more happiness than the pursuit of success and the constant restlessness that comes with it," wrote Albert Einstein, in a hand-written letter to a friend. These few words are worth more than their weight in gold, more even than the $1.56 million they fetched at auction this past week.