Thursday, April 28, 2016

This All-Consuming Life

Yesterday, I sat in my friend's 10th grade English class and watched his students read poems and share the stories that accompanied them.  They had been gearing up for this poetry performance for a few weeks and had found a home on the dimly lit stage of the auditorium, where their guarded grumbles and tightly folded arms slowly opened up to let vulnerability in.  I was working with one of my own college students in this classroom, and realized that not since my own classroom at NU High have I felt that spark light up again.  There are few things more powerful than seeing teenagers shed their masks, let go of the established social rules that riddle our high schools, and reveal their hearts to each other, as hard as it might be to open up in this judgmental world.  

So yesterday, I sat in as JLo, at a table with Mr. Frenna and Mr. Apling as forty fifteen and sixteen year olds stood in front of us and their classmates, shared their stories, and read poems that so perfectly articulated more than they will ever know.  We cried with a young girl who talked about her grandparents adopting her and her siblings after her parents' drug addiction consumed them, and how painful it was to watch her grandpa, her rock, become consumed by cancer.  Then she read a poem about his clothes, that still hang in his closet with all the familiar smells that remind her of him.  There were many poems about divorce, about moms and dads who live states away, about cancer and self-image, and uncertainty for the future.  There was the 6'3 basketball player who chose a poem about singing in the storms, and told a story about his dad with tears running down his face.  I listened to their stories and felt the weight of them, proud and protective of these kids I don't even know.

So many of them talked about how the poems became avenues for the words they couldn't put together themselves, and that they helped them understand their stories in a deeper way.  I couldn't stop thinking about them the rest of the day - their nervous eyes, their shaky hands as they held their poems tight, their smeared penciled scribbles in the margins.  What they did mattered so much.  They were asked to be authentic, to find words to communicate something important to them, to open up parts of them they maybe never had before, to take risks, and to let it all sink in in a way that felt so good it hurt.  Why is it that we rarely ask this of people?  Why don't we do it for ourselves?  Is it because we are afraid, or don't take the time, or find it unimportant?  We hammer skills and concepts, poetry terms and math problems, but rarely do we ask kids to feel.   

I crave experiences that make this part of me feel alive.  Where I stop thinking of my day as a set of tasks to march through mechanically and let myself see and hear and feel more of what God has orchestrated around me.  The bitterness of my coffee on a cold and rainy day, that part of the song that you always turn up, or that butterfly that landed just perfectly on Mila's hand as her eyes sparkled with wild imagination.  When does that spark go out and how do we cultivate a life that reignites it?  One of my favorite quotes from my favorite truth teller Thoreau is "Live in each season as it passess...breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth."  

I'm convinced I'm not living well unless I let the world overtake me every now and then.  Those moments, the ones that make you feel alive, these are the moments I want to collect.  These are the moments I want to teach my kids to live for.  

And when you don't know where to look, somewhere outside might be a good place to start.  We had two walkabouts through the Katoski Greenbelt this week and the bluebells were mighty.   



When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

-Mary Oliver      

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