A Weekly Column

By Joseph Walker



It was the first day of second grade, and Sarah was ready.

And why not? She had been looking forward to this moment since . . .

well, since the last day of first grade.

Now that she wasn't a little baby first grader anymore, she was anxious to take her place among The Big Kids. So of course it was important that everything be just so. She got the world's coolest backpack, complete with matching pencils and loose-leaf binders. She had her hair trimmed to a shorter, more mature length. And she bought some stylin' school clothes, including a killer outfit that featured khakis, a hot yellow shirt and these really neat shoes that were sort of like tennis shoes, only they weren't, and they had buckles and . . . well, you just had to see them, that's all.

Mom helped to get the first day of school off to a great start by making Sarah's favorite French toast. Only Sarah sort of dribbled syrup on her hot yellow shirt and stylin' khakis, so she had to run upstairs to change into her second-best outfit consisting of blue jeans and a "Tarzan" t-shirt -- nice, but not killer.

The last-minute change put her way behind schedule, and the school bus was beginning to pull away from the curb as she rounded the corner. She dashed to catch the bus and was just reaching to pound on the door when the bus driver saw her, stopped the bus and flung open the door -- right in Sarah's face. Blood dripped from her nose onto her second-best outfit, and tears streamed from her now-blackened eyes as the chagrined bus driver tried to soothe and calm her.

"Maybe we should take you home, sweetheart," she said as she dried Sarah's tears.

"No!" Sarah insisted. "I'm OK. Let's go to school!"

They did their best to mop the blood off of Sarah's face and clothes, and they chugged off to school. Sarah was so excited to see her friends that she forgot all about the morning's calamities. Since there were still a few minutes until the school bell was scheduled to ring, she went to her favorite swing on the playground and pumped herself to heights she had never been able to achieve as a mere first-grader. At the apex of her swing she saw her best friend across the schoolyard. At precisely the wrong moment, she let go of the swing with one hand to wave. She flew out of the swing and landed -- hard and awkwardly -- on the playground sand, breaking a leg and spraining a wrist. As she lay in the sand, slowly drifting out of consciousness, she noticed a shiny object on the ground not far from her head. With her good hand she grabbed it. Then she blacked out.

After being summoned by the school nurse, Sarah's Mom rushed into the sick room to pick up her daughter. She was stunned by what she saw: her sweet second grader with her arm in a sling, her leg in a splint, a swollen nose, two black eyes and blood stains on her second-best outfit. But what really troubled her was what was on Sarah's face: the biggest, brightest smile you ever saw.

"Sarah, look at you!" her mother wailed. "You're bruised, bandaged and bloodied, and you've probably ruined your second-best outfit. Why on earth could you possibly be smiling?"

"Look, Mommy," Sarah exclaimed, extending a still-sandy palm. "I found a quarter!"

School, like life, can be like that. It can be tough -- even painful at times. But there are always treasures in the sandbox that make the challenges worth overcoming and the pain worth enduring.

On the first day, and every day.

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--- (c) Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and