Nature of the Material

Joanna Brichetto


[Nashville] The shades are down when I come back. These are the commercial blinds for schools not on tight budgets: woven mesh, you-can-see-out-but-they-can’t-see-in, and with a cord like a necklace of BBs looped through a clutch mechanism. Pull one side and blinds rise, ratchety smooth, pull the other and they lower. They are a pleasure to work because they do work. But someone beat me to it and the blinds are down.

It’s the they-can’t-see-in factor that keeps the classroom darker. Darker as in less light to bake Formica counters and darker as in worry.

Monday, someone shot at our synagogue, presumably from a moving vehicle during rush hour on a four-lane highway. No one knows who or why. Luckily, the bullet lodged in a window frame, and luckily, this someone did not check the website to note the building’s hours. Moments later, the office staff would have been behind that bank of windows, but when the shot hit, only the maintenance man heard it. Not last year’s maintenance man who stole our silver Torah crowns and was caught by cops at the pawn shop, but the good maintenance man whose sister teaches Junior Congregation. I’m sure he’s the one who thought to lower the art room blinds.

My windows face east and get good sun, out of reach of the walnut and hackberry trees across the parking lot. Construction paper art fades to gray on the counter, but pots of parsley sprout: a trade-off I negotiate by shifting Red Sea dioramas to a cupboard and by queuing plastic planters—scrawled with Ariela, Izzy, Jacob, Tommy—smack up to the glass.

Paper art can stay out all week now, but seedlings will need a new home.

It’s a line, this shot. We’ve crossed it and are sad and angry but grateful it wasn’t worse. Worse happens every day, somewhere. One of my Israeli colleagues shrugged it off as the nothing it must seem to her. But to me, the new normal will mean asking our Metro officer to supervise when my Kindergarteners collect walnuts in the parking lot or when my third graders hang homemade bird feeders. The basketball goal will be off limits. And we will have lock-down drills.

The building dates from 1951, and now seems designed to ensure maximum casualties. Every classroom shares a wall of windows at ground level. Every door—un-lockable, which is a concern during lock-downs—is glass with no cover to block the view. As we are nowadays a school on a tight budget there is no money for retro-fitted blinds, so today we’ve hung vertical banners of laminated construction paper. Frankly, they suck. It’s the nature of the material. Paper corners bounce up, pulled by laminate that wants to roll back into tube position.

We want to roll ourselves back into pre-bullet position. We want to use paper for origami, not for sniper screens. Our seedlings need sun.

Wednesday, today, is Holocaust Remembrance Day, which social media assures me has nothing to do with Monday’s bullet. Monday was the Tennessee Annual Day of Remembrance ceremony at the state capitol down the road.

I keep hearing the word “random.” Is random the best case-scenario, and if so, for whom? For us sitting ducks? Because it’s been duck season since long before Monday, since Germany, since Rome, since ever.

Although, if you want to split hairs, which is what Jews are supposed to be good at, it is not duck season. Nor is it deer or dove or turkey. According to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, right now, the week of the drive-by, hunters are restricted to coyote, armadillo, groundhog, beaver and striped skunk: animals so despised, they are the only game legal to shoot 365 days a year. Pest species. Vermin.

But here come the tweets and threads about how the incident was accidental, not intentional, and anyone could have Whoopsie! squeezed a trigger at the front door of any structure along that busy road during morning commute; and Jews are not targets here; and Jews are the oppressors; Jews think #JewishLivesMatter more than other lives or more than lives of real Americans. What, the commenters ask, would make this building different from all other buildings targeted by angry, armed nutters? And to this I cannot reply, because such micro-aggressions are rooted in naiveté too deep. Frankly, they suck, but it’s the nature of the material. Against these assumptions, the bullet seems a logical extension.

My reply is to keep making lesson plans. My students range from ages four to nine, and they already know lives matter. Come Sunday, we will meet as usual: same time, same place, but just a little darker. We will make things, find connections, read stories, bless our Cheez-Its and apple juice, and get really good at lock-downs. And we will keep planting seeds that need the sun.


joanna-brichetto-bio-picJoanna Brichetto is a naturalist and educator in Nashville, where she writes the urban nature blog Look Around, and runs a Jewy DIY site for parents and teachers. Her essays have appeared or are forthcoming in storySouth, November Bees, Jewish Literary Journal, Killing the Buddha, Mamalode, Dead Housekeeping and The Fourth River. Find out more at




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