Old Pueblo Abuelo: You can’t have your forest without my trees

This is the ninth installment of “Old Pueblo Abuelo,” a Sunday thought on positive things happening in the Old Pueblo from a sometimes cranky and often times humorous grandfather actually born in Tucson.

“I don’t care who you love as long as you love someone who loves you.”

The notion of “winning the hearts and minds” of our “enemies” through war, shock and awe is too sad to be considered humorous so we look back on it with regret and the feeling that we must never do that again, while knowing we will, because we always have and this weekend serves as another reminder of our foolishness.

It’s a notion that will always fail because there is a military “bigger” nation-building picture attached to it without thinking of the details. Loss of life is meaningless to those who live by the expression, “You can’t see the forest from the tress,” because they think a forest is a singular thing with a singular result. It’s not, forests are made up of individual trees and so are nations, communities and schools, except our “trees” are people.

It’s impossible to defeat evil by winning the “hearts and minds” of your enemy, you find victory and comfort in taking care of the hearts and minds of your own children because all it takes is one. One diseased tree can kill a forest and one person can kill thousands, no matter how much shock and awe they are subjected to.

You might think it’s impossible to touch the hearts and souls of each person or each child one at a time but teachers do that every day. Though some threaten us with zip ties, crazy language and threats, we keep moving forward.

I can look at all the kids I taught in over 33 years as one rewarding experience but it takes their individual stories to prove it to be true. It’s not as simple as the old, “throw that one starfish back into the ocean to save it,” because throwing a child back into an ocean is dangerous. It’s dangerous to the kid and, quite frankly, the ocean.

There’s Heather who was thrown against a wall when she was a baby and that experience left her without a voice and without the use of her body. I heard stories that some in her family considered her to be evil because of the way life twists bones when they are broken and unused but, to me, she was Heather. We’d dance in the therapy pool designed to give freedom to the body and, though science tells me her smile was probably just an automatic reaction to the motion of being spun around, I know her smile was much more than that and don’t we all smile when we dance? Shouldn’t we?

There’s the story of two very different kindergarten girls with two very different lives. I saw one running in the playground with an older woman and I asked her if that was her mom. The little girl looked up at me and told me that was her helper for the day because her mom was in trouble for killing her brother. That was my first year teaching in a non-special education setting and I had a feeling come over me that to run away from that world would be to accept it. I stayed and continue to stay with these children. They continue to fill me.

The other kindergartner I want to tell you about was also on that same playground years later and I noticed she was out there by herself, long after her class went in from recess. I went up to her and asked what she was doing and she looked at me, realizing she should be inside with her class instead. She looked at me and said, “Mr. Morales, you have a playground in your mind.”

Now, I know she meant to pretend like she wasn’t out there so she wouldn’t get in trouble but I also wondered how she knew I had toys in my attic. At any rate, she got a free pass back to class.

I’ve had a student stabbed by a relative and a student drafted by the Yankees. I’ve had a student ask me to adopt him and another ask me to be his grandfather and yet another tell me he hated me. I’ve had students who were clearly taught racism at home and others who lived and loved without the darker filters of their surroundings.

So, you can have your forest. You can continue to try to build nations without thinking of the consequences. I’ll continue to take care of each tree one at a time.

More “Old Pueblo Abuelo” can be found here.


Andy Morales was recognized by the AIA as the top high school reporter in 2014, he was awarded the Ray McNally Award in 2017, a 2019 AZ Education News award winner and he has been a youth, high school and college coach for over 30 years. He was the first in Arizona to write about high school beach volleyball and high school girls wrestling. His own children have won multiple state high school championships and were named to all-state teams. Competing in hockey, basketball, baseball and track & field in high school, his unique perspective can only be found here and on AZPreps365.com. Andy is the Southern Arizona voting member of the Ed Doherty Award, recognizing the top football player in Arizona, and he was named a Local Hero by the Tucson Weekly for 2016. Andy was named an Honorary Flowing Wells Caballero in 2019 and he is a member of the Amphi COVID-19 Blue Ribbon Committee. Contact Andy Morales at amoralesmytucson@yahoo.com

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