“Why did you put quotation marks around all your sentences?” I asked Emery.
She and I were editing the misspelled words in a story she’d written for school when I realized that every sentence had direct quotation marks around it.
Whether it contained actual dialogue or not. (And there was no actual dialogue in the story).
“My teacher told me to put them around sentences when someone talks,” she told me. “I talked. I told the whole story.”
(Clearly she doesn’t understand the difference between actual character dialogue and narration).
I was already agitated because of some other run-ins I had with her and her brother earlier in the day while trying to help them do their school work. I saw this as yet another task to accomplish that was standing between me and the end of the day.
So, I furiously erased all the quotation marks and moved on to do something else.
That moment came back to me a few days later because I was rereading something I wrote in my Bible study notes, and I stopped to make my direct quotation marks look better – they looked like tiny, weird curves suspended above the line on the page.
As I fixed my own punctuation, my memory flashed back to the quotation marks Emery used in her story – the ones I erased with almost enough force to rub holes in the page.
Her marks were PERFECT.
She took great care in making them all. The round part at the top (or bottom depending if they’re open- or close-quotation marks) and the curved tail coming off were perfection. I could tell she put a great deal of effort into making each one with her pencil.
But, I didn’t compliment her on them. I didn’t even notice how careful she’d been about forming them correctly when I was in that moment. I was too busy violently erasing them and brushing pink eraser scraps off the paper to fully take in how meticulously she’d made the marks.
Isn’t that what emotion does? Distracts us with irrelevant details and makes us miss what really matters…
I missed a chance to applaud her attention to detail – to point out something she’d done well. I didn’t exactly fuss at her about them, but I was clear about my frustration with having to erase all of them.
Who wouldn’t benefit from a pat on the back?
Who doesn’t need a little extra encouragement, especially during this time of separation and alienation?
We could all use some positivity right now.
I pray I don’t miss that moment the next time around.