Thriller (or, The Best Gift)

by danielagins

I have written previously about a tradition I began at my school eight years ago, called the “it” show. You can read about it a little more here and here (The second link is from 2008). I have an unfinished post that has been collecting cobwebs and dust on my blog for two years now called Cardboard Wizardry – in which I really try to explain the importance of the show for me and for my students. I can never finish the post because I can never fully articulate my feelings in a manner consistent with how I truly feel. Perhaps it is a post that is meant to be left incomplete. Perhaps it is a story I am incapable of telling. I believe that we all have those stories somewhere.

What I am writing today is not one of those stories.

The fourth “it” show took place on June 6, 2008. It was in many ways one of the most special events I have had the privilege to be a part of. It was not the best show overall (that distinction belongs to the fifth “it” show) but it is the one closest to my heart because of the kids involved and because of another, more personal, reason. My brother died in April of that year, right in the middle of producing the show. One of my last memories of my brother is this:

We were at our Mother’s house, on the deck, in early April, a few weeks before he died. I was telling him about the show – he was always interested in anything that involved creating something from nothing and giving kids an outlet to perform. This show was going to be special, I said. We were mixing pretaped and edited film with live acting on stage and it was going to culminate with approximately thirty-five eight graders dressed up as gnomes doing a choreographed dance to Thriller. I remember what happened next clearer than anything else in my life. Phil took a long drag of his cigarette, gave me the one-raised-eyebrow look of ultimate skepticism, exhaled, and said, “Thriller? Eighth graders? Yeah, right.” He flicked his finished cigarette and walked away shaking his head. I left shortly after that, and  even though we probably saw each other one more time before he died, that memory is really my last. When I returned to school after his death the kids were unsure if we were going to finish the show. We were. I needed to for a few reasons. First, it kept my mind busy, but more importantly because I wanted so badly to prove my brother wrong. So we did push on, and the kids did the dance. Thirty-five eighth graders. Kids from every lunch table/social group. Kids who never danced before and haven’t danced since. They did it, and it was one of the highlights of my life. Not my professional career – but my life.

Last night I was the DJ at their Senior Prom. It wasn’t all thirty-five of them, but they did it. They danced. And my heart burst.