What if you could stand in a first grader’s shoes as he walks out onto an acre of asphalt. All kinds of powerful energy come in the moment he steps out. And unlike some grown-ups, kids feel everything – from joy to pain – without filter. Experiences cut deep and leave marks. The things that hurt may be more powerful teachers than joy. Taking the hurt out of what children experience might mean that a child never find his heart. Hearts need hurts to open. Transformation comes to us in this way.
That’s where the good old bench comes in. Tried and true, nothing like a bit of bench time to give a first grader that full-stop experience and possibly an opening for a bit of reflection. Check out these examples:
- I caught a couple of boys throwing rocks at an old dog that had been tied up to a no-parking sign next to the school. From the way they were laughing, nothing could have been funnier. I lined both of them up along the fence and told them to imagine themselves tied to a pole getting hit with rocks. They watched my lips moving and kept giggling. I benched them in the morning and again at lunch.
- A little girl sat in the playground’s farthest corner behind the blue garbage bins. I crossed the yard, sat down next to her and asked what was going on. “Nobody wants to be my friend.” I called over two girls and got an earful about how they did not want to play with her. Ever! I benched all three and told them to come up with a better answer.
- A little boy came up to me, tugged at my sleeve, and sobbed. One of his classmates had called him fat and ugly and said she wouldn’t play with him. I dropped down on my knee to get the whole story in between sniffles. She approached on her own, looked at her sobbing classmate, wiping his nose. I asked her to describe what she saw. She told me that his heart was broken. I tapped his chest and asked – do you mean here? She said yes but that she knew how to fix it. She said ‘sorry’ but it came out in an authentic way like a blooming flower of peace. Done! No bench.
What made the third time the charm? You’d have to know more about the kids involved. The little girl had witnessed violence that you would never wish on a child so young. The little boy came from a family that had only recently found housing after skidding through three shelters and five schools. By six, their hearts had been ripped open. Already, they could feel what others felt because of their suffering.
Clement Connolly, spiritual leader at a church in Southern California, speaks of powerful energies that change us and those that transform us. Bullying, spite, betrayal – all of these have a charge that can harden our hearts. He also describes how suffering – hurt – touched by love –heart- can cause an opening for learning.
Let benches – and the reflection they might foster – expand and multiply. Let them appear in corporate offices and the halls of Congress alike. Let adversaries be benched before the next war. Let all of us, deeply invested in fortifying our own positions, take a lesson from the playground and sit on the bench. Just by sitting and remaining silent, is there enough faith in us to imagine that a bit of wisdom might get in?
Please let it be so.