Tuesday, August 23, 2011

My Greatest Teachers

One of a child's greatest gifts is his ability to teach us.

This afternoon provided some entirely unwelcome excitement - we experienced a big earthquake, 6.0 magnitude. When the earthquake started, I was in the basement. I raced to the main level to find Leo, happily sitting on the couch, wondering what that rumbling sound was. Calm and quiet as could be, he was unphased by the significant shaking and loud rumbling; Pax remained sound asleep, and Aidan was kept safe and calm at school by his wonderful teacher. Later when he got off the bus, he was excited and amazed that we had felt it, too. I asked him what he thought of the earthquake and he replied enthusiastically, "It was COOL!"

I, on the other hand, was all shook up. But as I helped the kids process the event during the afternoon and into the evening, I realized that for them, this was very exciting. They didn't know to be scared. Aidan wanted to know all about how the plates beneath the ground shift, and what the ground looked like when it was shaking. He wondered about other places in the world where earthquakes are more common, and remembered hearing about the ones in Japan. He was excited to remember that earthquakes that happen in the ocean can cause tsunamis. Leo wanted to watch the weather, to find out when the next earthquake would be happening. He was convinced that our local forecasters had all the answers to when the next time the "shaking thing would happen." And Pax, blissfully oblivious to the shaking and quaking, laughed and giggled his way through the evening, jumping from the arm of the couch onto the cushions and crouching against the pillows - his version of hide-and-seek.

Admittedly, I haven't been able to fully embrace the "curiosity" viewpoint of my children, nor the oblivion. But taking a step back from the worry and the stress and the adrenaline rush that the afternoon provided, they have a valid point.... what did the ground look like? Do the plates settle back into their former positions after the quake? Why can't forecasters predict the quakes? And what kind of wonderful poem might one write from the perspective of the "fault lines," who always take the blame?
Browsing through children's books at the library earlier today, a story I've searched for many times but have been unable to find literally jumped off the shelf at me. (My recall of the title was just slightly off, and I assumed it was out of print.) As I child, I read it obsessively, loving the illustrations, the tender story, loving how very full-circle it is, loving the sweet bond between Bobby and his grandfather, Bob. Now One Foot, Now the Other is told with poignant and gentle elegance. Tomie de Paola weaves together the past and the present as the grandfather describes to Bobby how he first taught him to walk on his own, how to build large towers of blocks, how to eat with a spoon. Bobby especially loves to hear the story of how he learned to walk - now one foot, now the other. Later, after Grandfather experiences a debilitating stroke, Bobby slowly teaches his grandfather each of these skills again, ending with- now one foot, now the other.
Close to a year ago, I shared the story of Pax's recognition of communion during church. Months later, Pax has created a place for himself at that table. Although our church is very clear that all are welcome, it was my own reluctance that prevented Pax from taking communion with the rest of us. But then, it happened - quite by accident, the first time. The pastor held the bread, intended for me, a little too close to Pax's graspy fingers. Too late to stop him, he snatched the bread from her fingers and clutched it in a white-knuckled fist. Pastor and I exchanged a glance, she quietly tore off another piece for me, and the meal continued. All were fed.

Since that day, Pax has continued to commune with us at the table. He has made a place for himself, insisted that he be a part of the meal. The squirming, fussy, busy almost-two-year old turns into a calm, focused, quiet child when we kneel down at the altar. Perched on my knee, he carefully holds out his tiny hands in a gesture similar to his sign for "book" as he waits for the bread. Patiently he watches for the chalice to be brought to him, where he dips his bread into the wine before he carefully eats. Each week, bearing witness to this tiny child who is so serious and so intentional in his communion, I become verklempt. In "Communion," "to share," Pax has taught me, has helped me to understand - all are welcome. He has opened my eyes to a new perspective, a new understanding of what it means to belong, to be welcome, to be accepted.

My children are my greatest teachers.

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