I met Charles long before I became his teacher. Small and solemn, he was a very serious and eager little conversationalist. I would see him in the schoolyard, talking to another teacher, and we would walk together. I’m not sure exactly how our greeting started—probably he was leaning forward one day, looking Buddha-esque, and so I bowed to him rather than say hello. He bowed back, and our heads touched.
From then on, that’s how we said hello. It got to the point that we didn’t even speak; he would just walk over while I was on yard-monitor duty, chatting with other students, and we would bow and touch heads, and grin. Other kids and teachers got used to seeing it, and no-one really questioned it. It suited us.
When Charles finally became my student, I would draw the picture on his papers—two stick figures leaning towards each other, heads touching. There’s a picture of the two of us at a classmate’s Bar Mitzvah, heads bowed. The photographer kept asking whether we wanted to face the camera, but we didn’t. Capturing the image was more important than having our faces visible to the lens.
Charles visited a crafts fair over vacation, and found a husband and wife team who took blobs of colored glass, etched words or images on them, and encircled them in silver to make pendants. He spoke to the wife, the silversmith half of the team, and described and drew a picture of what he wanted.
The woman took Charles’ sketch to her husband, the etcher of the glass. He looked at the drawing of two stick figures leaning towards each other, heads touching and must have decided that the child had drawn the image incorrectly.
So he “fixed” it.
Returning to school after vacation, I found a very eager Charles waiting to give me a present. It was the pendant—-a piece of smooth, blue-green sea glass, slightly bigger than a half-dollar--on which was etched two stick figures holding hands.
”Oh Charles, neat! It’s very much like our symbol.”
Charles sighed and explained that it was supposed to have been our symbol, but when he went back to pick up the jewelry from the artisans, he was too polite to point out that they had etched the wrong design, so he politely thanked them and paid for it.
People comment on the pendant whenever I wear it. Charles never fails to tell me he likes it, and I tell him an old friend gave it to me. I tell the story to anyone who looks vaguely interested. I find it to be such a commentary on adult’s perceptions of children’s abilities, and grown-ups' eagerness to standardize the world.