I stood at the round table behind Anika, Kelsey, and Merry. Voices from last year came out of the speakers on Merry’s white computer.
"Can you turn it up," I asked.
"It's as loud as it goes," said Merry, her eyes not moving from the screen.
Outside the sky was gray, and rain poured over the woods. Tree limbs swayed, and a few golden beech leaves blew over the stone wall and shivered in the graying woods. In the big room I could hear Wyatt flicking three gold binder clips over and over; when they fell to the floor they made a metallic clicking sound as they skittered over the cement floor.
I looked at the screen. There was Kelsey last year. It was spring, because she was wearing shorts, and there were music instruments on the big table. There was Juliette, looking in a mirror before the play. There was Marco, his voice deeper than I remembered, telling us, “No, it wasn't fun, but I learned a lot." There was Cade, reading a poem from the Earth Prayer book. For the moment, the old year was alive again, as clear as water. I could see us moving under the surface, and only for a second could I remember it really happening.
Laughter came from the math room. Rain drummed on the roof and splashed on the gray stone patio. Ned walked by with his camera. I look at the video screen, I looked into the office where Angus was taking notes. I thought to myself: these are beautiful people, and this is a beautiful place.
We are getting to the place where we are going deeper, and more meaningfully, into our ideas, insights, books, and knowledge and understanding of each other. Kids are talking to each other, listening, venturing new ideas, sharing what they are discovering in school and in their lives. They are talking about conflicts between each other, in their minds, or about the stresses and difficulties and epiphanies of growing up. They are showing courage, adventurousness, and willingness to discard old ways of being to try to do things differently. As we discussed at length this week, they are enmeshed in subverting the dominant paradigm.
They begin to to do this increasingly at this juncture in the year for the simple reason that we have made the school a safe place. They have made it a safe place. They have learned, for instance, that their ideas are interesting, and their questions are valid, their feeling are valid, and school is better when those ideas, questions, and feelings are voiced.
They like listening to each other. They make space for each other to talk and move. When something isn’t going right, they speak about this, and it s safe to say, “This isn’t right. We need to fix this,” and then there is assent, understanding, new awareness. They have learned that each of us suffers from time to time, and that suffering shared, told about, understood, or seen is a way of reducing suffering to smaller terms, to put it in context, to see it against the brilliance or great magnitude of the larger world and what is not suffering. They have learned that it is okay to cry at school from time to time, because no one isn’t going to understand tears. We may have work to understand what is behind the crying, but this is not really work for us. Rather, it stands as a chance to see and learn and grow. When we really go in like this, we make manifest Mother Teresa’s statement: “We belong to each other.”
And, paradoxically, when there are tears in the classroom, happiness grows. The whole landscape of emotion is now available to us, nothing off limits. We find out what we need to be happy when we understand what makes us sad. The walls between us dissolve. We are porous. There are silences, and then we fill the silences. With stories, troubles, ideas, dilemmas. There is wisdom offered, sympathetic understanding, more stories, sometimes more tears. And beyond tears, or after them, there is laughter, and a dissolution of defenses, which allows ease, which encourages openness to the world and others, which makes it so everything, anything can be learned, is good to be learned, because, after all, it is all there for us. When it is cooking like this, bubbling, smoking, and roiling— yes, it is truly beautiful.