“We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”—Shakespeare
If Maine’s long and arduous winter months embody a rotation inward—the tight, nourishing curl of child’s pose—then summer’s arrival is the mighty exhale of a warrior, barreling hot and fast on the heels of the first heat wave, dropped like a portcullis. Suddenly the air is soupy and still at noontime with the relief of a late afternoon breeze raising up and fluttering about a profusion of newly minted, shamrock colored leaves, like confetti on branches.
Slabs of granite on walkways warm soles of feet, rosehips blossom and burst open, releasing their petals like a trail dropped from a flower girl’s basket. The imprint of the coldest months remains only in the way of a lingering dream, just out of reach. Abiding in sensation but plucked from the mind’s eye like a weed. In the stretch of days when the sun is blazing, and heavy coats have been hung and pushed away, winter becomes the season which shall not be named.
My scruffy, black boots must have been heavy when I traipsed up the walkway into the classroom where I sat among fellow parents, naïve and oblivious to the momentous nature of the days to come. Blissfully unaware of the distance that would grow between us as our regular crossings of paths would go missing, as a baton was passed between seasons.
We kept on our wool-hats, mine hiding curls that would grow wild and unruly under quarantine, like weeds themselves. We had arrived in couples and singles, some knitted gazing down into their laps while listening. Others made jokes, turning to their partner for reassurance or reaction. We collected between us, like a single flame, the tiniest glimmer of hope for the prospect of a beloved undertaking—a right-of-passage for this particular grade—to go on, in some incarnation at some point in time.
A teacher rose for his turn to speak. Light on his feet, he came into the position of an ancient, Greek pentathlete as if he had landed there from another place in time. An imagined javelin rested lightly in his grip. As he spoke and gave explanation, his spine extended spaciously, the heavens and the earth supporting him, demonstrated by the seeming weightlessness that existed in the spaces between the poles of him.
If I can get just a little out of my gravity, to levity, he’d said.
For two decades he has been inviting children into the practice of landing within themselves, in a softer way. He bids them to come out of the habit body and enter into the place of geometric alignment. To the place where they might open up their ears and hear just a little more. The javelin, drawn back by the rotation of the midline and launched in an almost effortless manner, balancing a representation of power and ease.
The physical embodiment of a mighty whisper.
This elevation of the conversation invited the un-slumping of my back in my chair and the rotation my pelvis so that it was more directly beneath me, landing my feet squarely on the ground, then propelling me forward toward something to write on, and with. A folded up clinal summary from a doctor’s visit became my notepad, a pen was snaked out from the side pocket of my bag.
It might have seemed as if I was jotting notes to pass on instruction to Jonah, something that would have been discouraged due to the care with which these teachings are imparted. Instead, my impulse was to secure these concepts for my own collection of wisdom, impressions scribbled on scraps of paper to be discovered in journals and purse pockets once long since forgotten. Just as the shades were drawing closed on our physical connection to the outside world, I grasped at this unexpected luminosity flickering before us, like a firefly caught in a glass jar.
I had engaged in enough small talk to perk in recognition at the outlier of this rare transmission of insight through purposeful language and the general taking up of space by our presenter. In a world that will have you hurry your thoughts like an impatient waiter in a busy restaurant, the presence to land like a heavy statue in the space set out for him was palpable. The heightened atmosphere was further evidenced by the sense that time was counting its deep and purposeful breaths. I recognized my place in the presence of thought that can only be accessed from sincere and dedicated inner inquiry acquired over an expanse of time. You cannot learn this cadence of speech, nor garner the energy that goes with it, by imitation alone.
Mostly I kept these perceptions to myself as I embarked on a marathon of householding and came into my new role as orchestrator of remote learning; lifting heavy swarms of clothing from the washer, wiping up an ant’s feast of crumbs from beneath the dining table; choosing colorful markers to map out our days and insisting on legible handwriting.
Inside, I embraced the invitation to levity, instructing my posture to lengthen, my demands to soften. I once or twice invited the further opening of ears to quizzical looks and nervous laughter. Mom is talking gibberish again.
Sometimes, my feet grew the weight of concrete when the heat of conflict sparked, imparting in me the gravity to spread the energy of my quick reflexes out into a more fluid and sweet motion, like frosting a birthday cake. I noticed the way my neck and shoulders sought to do more than their fair share of the work and how my middle parts preferred collapse to expansion.
I coaxed each of these elements of my being to let go, to engage. Truth and paradox, once again, joined in their infinite pulse of vigilance and surrender.
When Jonah’s head was bald and my childhood friend commented on our need for a baby agent, we taught him to use sign language to communicate before he was ready to speak. He knew to put his thumb in contact with all of his fingers on both hands and then to bump the two together to make a request. More.With every achievement of his desired outcome, evoked by his command, his crystal blue eyes would radiate, his gummy smile widen. Soon he learned to walk, and then other, signed words came. Ball. Milk. Eat.
His triumph in dictating his needs and desires with his tiny hands was one of his first achievements as a human being, coming into the world, vulnerable, and at the mercy of the care of others. He had discovered the power of getting his needs met without the to-do of a crisis to get him there. Something we could all learn from.
Witnessing our son signing as he grew, someone once pointed out a perceived flaw in our method, “sure he can sign, but can he say anything? I tried to mask my hurt at the sting of the comment with cheer and whisked away dinner dishes to the sink where I could wash them and breathe. I noticed the way apprehension can be contagious and wondered about the hustle for a rapid pace when upon the slower path of unfolding there is a bountiful bouquet to be taken up along the way.
I had not thought about this unique sliver of time in years, until recently, when Jonah (now an eleven-year-old with never a shortage of words) came to me with a request. Inspired by a hearing-impaired character in a book series he inhales, even while eating, he expressed his desire to learn sign-language. He had no recollection of ever having signed for more blue berries in his highchair. His body seems to have remembered though and within a week of his request he was able to hold a conversation with hands now nearly as big as mine.
On the rocks, he sat down beside me in his silky, white, tennis shirt, a cap turned backward holding back his long, sweaty hair. Water lapped slowly at the shoreline at hightide on a still day. He turned his whole upper body toward me to get my full attention without saying anything and then took his pointer finger and moved it from his right ear to his lips signaling that he was deaf. I could feel him fully embodying what it would mean to communicate in this way because he had to. I remembered that very sensation from childhood of trying things on and experienced the astonishing reality of my own child doing so now, right before my eyes.
Throughout his learning in the previous week he had demonstrated to me various signs he was practicing but still I struggled to engage fully in our conversation. We did manage to converse by pointing to the things we both appreciated in our surroundings and then constructing the sign for good. One hand brought to the lips grazing our fingertips there and then collapsing the hand downward into the palm of the opposite hand. The satisfying sound of body parts slapping rang out in unison with our admiration of each bit of life we acknowledged.
There are endless good things to be noticed, still.
We laughed at my ineptitude and I marveled at how quickly he had taken to this means of expressing himself. It was as if he had thrown out a line and dropped it down into the depths of him, reeling in an immense treasure held together with threads woven across time. A vivid illustration of all that is left to be known.
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