Suzanne Reisler Litwin: Mean What You Say

The winter school term is coming to an end soon. The students are filled with tons of new information which I hope will be useful for them. I hope they are as fulfilled as I am.

On the last day of each class I give my creative writing students a gift of encouragement. I give each student a beautiful blank card. The exterior of the card has a glorious picture of either, animals, or flowers, sunsets, plants, gardens, etc. The inside of the card is blank. I tell my students how well their writing has improved and that they should no longer buy cards printed with someone else’s words in them. Their words are the most important for whoever will receive their cards. I encourage them to use their own words to write within a blank card. They should feel empowered, encouraged, confident, and talented to do so.

Then the class ends and so does the semester. It’s an accomplished time. Now the planning begins for the next semester.

During one of our classes, the students were asked to write about a joyful experience from their past. They were encouraged to write a very descriptive piece, one that would bring us to that moment in their time. On the last day of class, the students read their assignments out loud.

I didn’t realize how much laughing would take place during that class. I also didn’t realize how much fun people can have! Some of their experiences were so funny and delightful.

There was a common denominator within all their assignments, the students owned what they said. They told stories which they held close to their hearts. Their words were true and genuine. They meant to say what they said and chose their words carefully. They owned and meant their words.

My hope is when the students fill out their blank cards, they will once again chose their words carefully and mean them. That’s why writing in blank cards is so effective. Those words are your chosen words. Words in printed cards are usually a match of some other source.

Although I must admit, I do like to buy funny cards because I don’t write much humor. I can appreciate someone else’s humor much more than my own.

After listening to the student’s joyful experiences, I was reminded of one of my own. This memory reminded me of a very serious “mean what you say” moment!

I was around 14 years old, a senior in summer camp. The camp was in the midst of Color War. This is when the whole camp is divided into two separate teams. I was on the Brown Team and competing against the Green Team. The two teams compete for 3 days. All the campers compete against each other in many activities such as: baseball, swimming, archery, volleyball, soccer, song, dance, bunk clean up, etc.

The last event of the 3 day Color War was the Apache Relay Race. The Apache Relay Race is based on passing a baton from one team member to another. Every team member is given a specific spot to stand along the race route. The teams are spread out all over the camp grounds. The relay race is started when a loud horn is sounded. At that point, the youngest camper is given the baton. That camper runs to the next team member and hands them the baton. That team member then passes the baton to the next team member and so on.

The relay starts with the youngest campers and ends with the oldest age group camper. Usually the fastest runner of the oldest group is the last person to carry the baton. That camper also has the longest leg to run and runs towards the finish line. At the finish line, all the campers await the arrival of the last baton carrying team member. The excitement of the relay race is incredible.

The relay race takes about 20 minutes or more to run. Once a camper has passed the baton, they go directly to the finish line to see which team wins the race.

I was selected as the last runner for my team. I was a super-fast runner and determined to win. I was completing against another very fast girl. The winner of this race would definitely carry the “Fastest Runner in Camp” crown. I wanted it.

All the campers were in place along the camp grounds for the relay to start. It took about an hour to get all the campers placed accordingly. I was placed far up along the camp road. I was there for quite a while.

Suddenly, I heard the loud horn sound which announced the start of the relay race. I got so excited to receive the baton, but it was going to take quite a while until it got to me. It had to pass through around 100 hands.

I waited with the Green team’s fastest girl. I wouldn’t talk to her even though she was my bunk mate. I knew I was going to beat her. I was thinking of all the things I was going to say to her when I ran passed her. I was reciting these lines in my head, “See ya Sugar! Bye Bye Birdie! Catch ya later! Smell my wind! Eat my dust!”

As I waited, I was nervous, excited, I recited my lines and then I realized I had to pee!

I could have gone into the woods and relieved myself, but what would happen if I had missed receiving the baton? The more I thought about it, the more I had to go! I was in a terrible way. The more I waited the more I thought about my situation. The pressure was uncomfortable, but I had to wait. The time was ticking and ticking and I was waiting and waiting.

Then in the distance, I heard feet running. I was praying it was my team mate. It wasn’t. It was a green team member who quickly handed off the baton to my competitor and in a flash… she was gone.

Within about 10-15 seconds, my team mate appeared, he handed me the baton and off I went dashing to the finish line. I was far behind her, but we had a healthy distance to run.

My first goal was to get to the bathroom as soon as possible! So, I ran like a crazy person. I never ran so fast in my life. I had to get to the toilet!

I spotted my competitor and I turned on the speed! I was dashing and dashing and running and running and taking such large strides. In 10 seconds, I caught up to her! I knew I had to say something when I passed her but, I couldn’t remember any of my recited lines.

So… When I passed her, I simply blurted out exactly what I meant to say, “I Gotta Go Pee!!!!!”

I ran straight to the finish line, broke through the ribbon and continued running towards a toilet! All my cheering teammates were left wondering what happened to me. A couple minutes later, I returned to the finish line and we all jumped for joy! We celebrated our Apache Relay Win!

On that day, I truly meant what I said. My students meant what they said on our last day of class too. I think it’s a good idea to stick to that method of communication or just say nothing at all.

For now, I cheer!

Brown Team, Brown Team, all mighty.

Workin all day and all nighty.

Goin to beat the other team all righty.

Soon, soon, soon, Go, Go Brown!

—Suzanne Reisler Litwin


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