These days, emotions can run high. We often hear how Thanksgiving dinners have become difficult spaces of tension and conflict. Many columns give advice on how to keep to “safe” topics, others offer tips on anger management, or even about how to (gasp) make room for Aunt Rose, despite her difficult opinions.
While this story takes place in a school setting, Principal Greg John comes up with an “on-the-spot” ritual for managing anger that threatens to overwhelm and suggests how though “the ability to make way for another is rare,” we need to seek a way to “welcome even her.”
So read on, grab your Dixie cups, and pull out a chair for dear Aunt Rose. And have a Happy Thanksgiving!
— Greg John, Notes from the Playground
Wham! A shoe thuds against the front door to the school. Bam! Door flies open and collides with cheap wall tile. Pow! Framed in the doorway, punched out in back-lit sunrise silhouette stands Jeremiah. He whips his book bag from his shoulder and slams it on the floor. Then, he pulls up his hood, shoves his hands in his jeans pockets, and floor-kicks his way to the closest corner. Tears stream and this boy is angry!
Other adults scurry away. He and I remain, the only two in the hallway. I won’t walk away. This one is mine. So, I ask myself how to help him move through this place and onto the next. No good to stay here. I decide to launch another one of my on-the-spot rituals, woven with a bit of science and some other things I’ll just make up. Jeremiah, I say, do you know about the triple-water cure? At least he looks up, wet-faced and puffing.
I tell him that whenever you get a powerful emotion like anger in your body, you have to move it through. If it gets stuck, it can make you sick. So, I take him to the water cooler in the office, fill three Dixie cup of cold water, and tell him he will have to gulp one right after the other. That will wash it through and you’ll feel better. But it won’t be easy. Three cups is a lot of water! He nods just once, but enough to allow me to go on.
Sudden opportunities like the one with Jeremiah wake me up. I remember them later when they pop back into mind, shining like little pearls. I sit with these stories and let them show me how much happens around me, all the time. I know, for example, that hundreds of people show up at the doors to my school, some walk, some ride, some stumble, and some collapse through the door. Mine is to practice bending, opening, and receiving the shapes that come with grace and gratitude.
For example, one of the adults who scurried out when Jeremiah came in was a parent, often critical of certain ‘elements’ that attend our school. When the boy burst in, she paused, looked down, pulled her purse in close, and slipped out. Her economy of motion brought to mind how the ability to make way for another is rare. Where the intent to serve aligns with the will to learn, change becomes probable. Where one person turns another into an ‘element’ opportunities diminish. Still, I need to seek a way to welcome even her.
My impromptu spell works. Jeremiah lines up the three Dixie cups on top of the water cooler – like the ‘kid’ from an old Western, staggering in off the high desert and stepping up to the bar for a triple medicinal. He knocks back one, two, and pauses midway through the third. We wait together. Then, down the hatch, a smile, and out the door. In this way, we get through the first half hour.
I want a flexible mind that makes way for the wish each body has to find balance, make things right, and find connection. That skill waits for the invitation and comes when I make more room for myself. What better way than this to grow into days that are a bit bigger than what we might have expected?
This lovely story comes from Notes from the Playground. The book is full of stories that capture the perspectives of children and the principal who serves them. The stories bring us images and thoughts from our own childhood, often long forgotten, but revived in these sweet, sad, wistful moments.
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