Symphony 68

When they came back, Oscar Teixeira accused him of deception by announcing, “Mr. McCrae, this wasn’t a real party and I never did get my candy!”

“You’re right. It isn’t and you didn’t. This was something I cooked up to teach you something. We will have a real party on the twenty-third, and you will get your share of the candy in about five more minutes.

“Meanwhile, I want you all to think back to how you felt when you got your candy.”

Their faces told him that they remembered, and he could plot who had and hadn’t gotten candy by their smiles and frowns.

“All right, who can tell me why I gave more candy to some than to others?”

” ‘Cause you wanted to,” Tony replied.

Neil ignored him. Finally Sean Kelly said, “You gave lots of candy to the good kids and not much to the ones who aren’t good.”

“How much did you get, Sean?”

Those who sat near him and had seen his single piece of candy, laughed. Sean held up one finger.

“Sean, do you think you are a bad kid?”

“Well, I have been getting in trouble with Duarte.”

“Yes, you have, but that doesn’t make you a bad kid. And that wasn’t why I distributed the candy the way I did. I had another reason in mind.”

Duarte said in sudden disbelief, “You gave the Mexican kids more than you did the white kids!”

“Did I? If I did it was an accident. Or rather, it was because my reason has something to do with how your parents live.”

Suddenly Elanor had a realization. She shouted out, “You gave the poor kids more than you did the rich kids!” Then she raised her hand, because she had forgotten to do so in her excitement at understanding something the “smart” kids had missed.

“Elanor, you are absolutely right.”

Elanor beamed.

Stephanie half raised her hand, withdrew it, then raised it again. Neil was pleased at this crack in her normal self-confidence. He nodded, and she said, “I guess it was fair that you gave the poor kids more candy. But now you said you are going to make it all even.”

“That’s right, I am. I do like to be fair.”

Stephanie squirmed in a perplexity of near understanding. Every atom of her body was involved in the moment. She said, “But then — why did you do it?”

“I didn’t do it for the poor kids.”

She just shook her head. She still didn’t get it.

“I did it for the rich kids.”

She was still blank, but trying so hard to understand.

“I did it so the kids who always get everything could just once, in one tiny way, know what it feels like to see others get something they want while they get nothing.”

# # #

Neil instructed his class to evaluate the lesson. If they wanted, they could look at it like Mr. Campbell would, or they could tell how it had affected them personally. Most of them wrote willingly; kids always do when they have something they really want to say.

That night he read their papers.  Stephanie had said:

I always get a lot for Christmas and for birthdays. I always say thank you to my parents. I really do appreciate them. They are very good to me and I know it. 

Sometimes I see other kids parents being mean to them. They won’t let them play baseball or buy them things and I think how sad it would be to be like that.

more tomorrow

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