Friday, May 18, 2007

Find a stillness

This morning, it struck me full-force that WonderGirl will be out of school in two more weeks. All year, I've meant to make more of an effort to attend her weekly all-school silent meeting, and now it's crunch time. (Can you cram silence? Just my style to try.)

Silent meeting is a hard thing to describe. Since WonderGirl is in the youngest classroom, they go into meeting last, I imagine in order to minimize the inevitable fidgeting time. Their 8th grade "buddies" come to pick them up and walk them into the meeting room, and typically the younger kids sit in their buddies' laps. It blows my mind a little that WonderGirl and her friends are so comfortable with the routine of walking in silently and sitting silently for 30 minutes, a time only occasionally punctuated by expressed thoughts from kids or teachers. But of course, these younger kids don't even realize that this isn't the norm, and that there are schools where the entire community doesn't have the time to sit, in silence, together.

Today, WonderGirl sat in my lap and we sat beside her buddy, an 8th grader who will be graduating in just two weeks and moving on to high school. One of WG's good friends sat on the other side, and the two of them held hands in silence for nearly the entire meeting. An 8th grader in the school, who has cerebral palsy and takes great effort to communicate, spoke about how frightened she had been of the concept of silent meeting when she started at the school, and how, now, it was a place of refuge for her and one of her favorite parts of the school. I say she spoke, but truly she made guttural noises and shook -- until her helper started translating for the group, I had no idea she had been moved to speak, and had no idea how eloquently she was expressing her reflections. WonderGirl and her friends didn't think the scene was unusual at all. Later, one of the teachers, a 40-something man, was moved to talk about some of his reflections on the end of the year, and he was weeping as he spoke. None of the kids even seemed to notice. Somehow, these kids, who look just like any other batch of urban kids, think it's normal to sit in a room with the whole school, listening to raw thoughts and not really having any expectations about what might happen next. Is it because they've already seen it so many times? Is it because they're not paying attention? Is it because this is, in fact, a way that humans are meant to interact?

I felt like a tourist. I had to remind myself not to gape, not to react too strongly, to act like I also thought this was normal.

At the end, many of the children began to share, and for the most part it followed the patterns I would have expected: "I'm happy because it's almost summer," or "I'm sad because my brother is going camping and I can't," or "I'm happy because I just got this new game with two lightsabers and one is green and one is gold or maybe it's yellow and..." Then one little girl, who's 6 or 7, said this, "I'm sad because my grandfather is in the hospital. His temperatures are high and I don't know why. I don't know if he's going to be okay. I think maybe he has these high temperatures because he's getting older. Or... maybe it's because he's getting younger. [very long pause] I think he's going to die."

I lost my ability to be cool. At that point, I was crying along with the teachers. It's going to be a long summer. Next year, I will go to silent meeting more.


Jess said...

Wow. I wish all schools did this.

Nora came home the other day and said, "What I hate about auditorium time is that it's so LOUD." When it's raining before school, all the kids congregate in the auditorium before they go to their classes. I can barely stand to imagine how raucous that is.

Where does your daughter go to school?

Upside Up said...

that's a sweet story, and a lovely account of silent meeting. i hear such great things about friends schools -- i'm happy to hear that it bears out with WG.

Ruth said...

Jess, my daughter goes to a Quaker school, and it really is wonderful. It's not all silence and sweetness, obviously, but there's an attempt to at least bring that in to the day, and I'm grateful that she's experiencing that to some degree.

I'm struggling with what to do when/if I ever finish grad school, though. We can't afford to send two kids to private school, and my internal conflict over private/public schools hasn't abated at all. We'll probably move in a year or so, and then she'll be in a school without those rituals, and I wonder how that will be for her. I hope she'll carry through what she's learned from it now.