I was baffled the other day by a letter from the Los Angeles Unified School District saying that I had been selected by the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education to receive a certificate of appreciation for my "continued support of parents and handicapped children of Los Angeles."
I was invited to attend an awards ceremony one upcoming morning at the Board of Education.
I not only couldn't remember that I had done anything to support handicapped children, but I felt guilty that I hadn't.
I phoned the committee and told them I couldn't accept what seemed to me a "hollow" award. On the contrary, they assured me, I had indeed written some columns on handicapped children, specifically one or two about my visits to the McBride School.
I had gone out to the school once to see the faculty put on the annual Christmas play, an opus for which my daughter-in-law had cast vanity aside by playing Miss Piggy; and another time I had gone out when the world champion Raiders had come in a bus to visit the children. It had indeed been heartwarming to see a monster like Lyle Alzado touching the imperfect children with such gentleness.
I had also, I remembered, been commencement speaker at McBride one year, having been asked by a member of the graduating class, and I remembered the emotions with which I carried out that function.
Feeling better about the award, I accepted.
The ceremony was held on the east steps of the Board of Education building on Ft. Moore Hill, overlooking downtown Los Angeles. The introductory speeches were mercifully short, and then some of the children in the special education program put on a show.
Show business must be the best therapy of all, good for everyone involved--children, parents, friends.
First a group of teen-age girls called the Lanterman High School Tigers came out looking more like bumblebees than tigers in their black-and-yellow uniforms, and did a dance routine like the Rockettes. That sort of thing takes a great deal of coordination, with a flinging about of various portions of the anatomy, and the girls did it with obvious joy. They were tigers.
Then a teen-age group, mostly boys, sang a set primarily from the Beatles' glorious album, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." What lovely songs those were, and how much good they must have done, in the Beatles' time, to reconcile the generations.
How could you not like those haunted tunes and wistful lyrics; how could their authors ruin your daughters?
A boy came out to sing the lead of "Hey, Jude," with great feeling, and we were all caught up by the magic of that music in a groundswell of common emotion.
Next, the Saticoy Elementary Performers, a group of little girls in red, white and blue, did "The Stars and Stripes Ballet," a ballet that seemed shamelessly derivative of Sousa and Tchaikovsky, but nobody seemed to mind. It was good ballet.
Most of the dancers were deaf or had impaired hearing. I wouldn't have known, if I hadn't been told and seen the hearing aids behind so many ears.
They did their ensemble routines with quite impressive timing, and took their turns with pirouettes and cartwheels. Why is it that every girl is born with the ability to do cartwheels? I never could.
The finale was a rendition of "We Are the World" by the Marlton School singers. They had come up in the street behind us in a yellow bus, with their principal and their director. There were 11 boys and four girls, all teen-agers.
They filed up onto the steps and formed a line. Their director announced their song, and it began to play over a loudspeaker. I was prepared for a burst of voices.
Suddenly they began to follow the music in sign language, making not a sound. I realized that they were deaf. Meanwhile, as they made the signs, a voice on the recording sang the words, so that we could get the meaning. Their director stood in the street behind us, making the signs himself, mouthing the words, with great feeling.
I wouldn't have believed how much emotion could be put into sign language. They seemed to be singing with passion, with joy. Their signs became sweeping as they took in "the world," as they made the signs for the chorus:
We are the world,
We are the children,
We are the ones
Who make a brighter day . . . .
As they sang the chorus again those in the audience stood and linked hands and moved with them. . . .
We are the world. . . .
The awards ceremony was commendably brief. Ruth Warson was honored for her volunteer work, and I was honored along with Joan Boyett, Judy Howard, Lou Pappan, Dolores Zimmerman and Erika Hassan.
I managed to say that I felt humble.
Almost everyone who receives an award says he feels humble. It's the fashionable thing to say. But I really did.
By the way those children sang and danced I was made to realize how much work, and how much love, I imagine, goes into their lives to make it possible for them to perform, to realize some potential in themselves for singing, dancing, giving, being whole.
We who don't have such children of our own, and don't have time for them, must be forever grateful for those who take the time to care about them, to work with them, to teach them, to love them.
We are the ones who must help them make a brighter day.