‘If I’d only … my son would still be alive today’ - John Halligan has told 1 million students and counting the story of his son Ryan, a 13-year-old Vermonter who killed himself after facing a tsunami of so...
Friday, May 21, 2010
It took nine excruciating months – more than twice as long as estimated. There were so many, many, many setbacks, and at times I was tempted by the prospect of accepting a half-built, grotesque failure for what it was and quitting. But when the Continental Army was facing hypothermia and starvation at Valley Forge, did Washington say to his troops “being a British subject isn’t all that bad… let’s just go home…”? When the Nazis ran a surprise winter counteroffensive in the Ardennes forest and decimated Allied battalions, did Eisenhower tell his soldiers “Whatever… it’s just the fate of the free world… Let’s pack our bags and fuck it…”? When Han Solo was frozen in a solid block of carbonite, did Luke tell Chewbacca “Well, we can’t fly without a pilot… maybe we should just succumb to the Empire”?
And likewise, even after the village of Tonto surrounded by an endless expanse of sand proved incapable of finding enough sand to make bricks, Zac Mason did not give up. And even when handed a budget for two latrines and a wall and he came back from vacation to see that his construction crew had built three latrines behind his back – and the wall only went up to his ankles, Zac Mason did not give up. And then when the project was 90 percent done but the village of Tonto could not get the subcontractor to finish the job for a whole three months because some pinhead thought that it would be a good idea to pay the subcontractor in full in advance, Zac Mason did not give up. He wanted to kneel down so that he could smash his head against that ankle-high brick wall, but he did not give up.
But Zac Mason could not just build the nyegens himself. No, after throwing his back out carrying a ton and a half of cement from his porch to inside his house, there is no way that Zac Mason could ever have possibly done so much physical labor with his enfeebled spinal cord. Rather, Zac Mason set out twisting arms and working The System so that – despite the fact that Tonto increased the size of this project by 50 percent and threw out the budget that they had originally agreed to – they would still be held to the terms of their contract. Zac Mason had to twist those arms very hard.
And in the end, after a period of time comparable to the gestation of a human being, my own baby is finally finished. And now the students of the Tonto Secondaire Cycle are able to poop and pee within the confines of a modern, sanitary latrine complex. Exceeding all expectations, we have three latrines – one for boys, one for girls, and one for teachers. And we have a barrel with a spigot that the students are going to fill with water so that they can wash their hands – the traditional government of Tonto tells me that they are going to have the women provide home-made soap, and I can only hope that they will in fact do so. And the students are even more responsible for cleaning and maintaining their latrines from now until kingdom come. And so long as the students and adults of Tonto take responsibility for the proper use and upkeep of these nyegens, this construction project will have laid the groundwork for public sanitation and co-education.