Saturday, March 17, 2012

Snake in the Grass

Put a perfectly reasonable person in a school full of children after five days of rain and you have yourself a ripe candidate for membership in any fascist group that promises control of human behavior. Cattle prods, stun guns, solitary confinement, drugs, brainwashing through hours of TV—whatever it takes will be fine with you. Anything to control the exuberance of children who have missed their outdoor recesses.

It has been a rough week at school. The office bench of kids-sent-to-the-principal was standing room only and they had to wait until the fist-fight kids (a rarity in our school) had cooled down. Sixteen 8th graders entered the music room with post-play-production-let-down and find-out-that-afternoon-what-high-school-accepted-them-syndrome on top of the constant rain and I immediately knew it was a bad idea to arm them with xylophone mallets. So instead we made a circle and I had them beat their own body with patterns that released energy, focused energy, made coherence out of their chaotic emotions and connected them to each other. It worked. At least briefly.

On top of this all, a large hanging light in the art room decided it was tired of being attached to the ceiling and came crashing down on a table where children would have been working except for the exquisite timing of falling down during a recess. A pigeon flew into the library and got twenty kids screaming at the top of their lungs. TGIF never had so much meaning!

A couple of lifetimes ago at school when I used to have recess duty, rainy days meant kids coming into the music room to play Snake in the Grass. One kid who is “it” had to slither around trying to tag the kids running around. There was a bit of screaming involved, at a decibel level that made Heavy Metal concerts seem like Easy Listening. I probably could make a good case for retroactive Workman’s Comp for the damage to my hearing, never mind my sanity.  When I saw clouds in the sky on my recess duty day, I immediately summoned every prayer traditon I knew of to spare me this torture.

In the midst of all this, it struck me that the whole edifice of human society is held together by such a thin thread. You pass the Montessori classroom and see forty kids sitting in complete silence eating their lunch, so calm and civilized. But you know that if one kid got set off in the wrong direction—as in a pigeon flying in the room— the others could follow like a flock of birds and things could get ugly quick. Forty screaming kids versus three powerless teachers. And then there’s the 8th grade with their large bodies, complicated emotions and a teenage power (and in some schools, heavily armed with real weapons) and you got yourself another potential time-bomb waiting to go off. Add to the mix the whims of weather, earthquakes, viruses, accidents and it’s a wonder that we survive each day with our health and sanity relatively intact. When all runs smoothly, we take it for granted, but when the lights start to fall and pigeons fly in, we realize how fragile the whole show is. 

And so we humans have evolved all sorts of structures to contain the chaos. Some go the repression route, some encourage expression within the boundaries of form, some lean toward the fear, some lean toward the trust. But they all have the same hope— to give some shape and meaning to a life of rampant unpredictability and potential disaster.

As a trusting lilies-of-the-field kind of guy, I love to cavort barefoot through the wildflowered meadows and exult in the goodness of this life and the bounty of nature. But every once in a while, I am reminded that there are real snakes lying in the grass who wish me harm. So, my friends, step carefully, pay attention, walk through this world grateful for every moment of gifted life and hope that the snakes are dozing peacefully on the boulders. 

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