On an apple-crisp Tuesday morning, one of my second grade teachers invited me to join her students in their start up activity. They lined up shoulder-to-shoulder on the playground and I took a spot on the farthest end. She then told us to close our eyes and get as quiet as we could. Listen, she said. Sniff twice. Feel the cool air.
She described what she called an inside ear and asked us to listen with this ear as well. What could we hear? A couple of kids giggled, but the teacher reminded us that this inside ear worked better when our eyes and mouths were closed. I followed instructions.
Then, counting down from ten to zero she told us to open our eyelids slowly, as if they were heavy doors. She suggested that we should see everything that the sun touched as if for the first time. Then she closed by saying that the real gift was hers because she got to see treasures in our bright and upturned faces. Good morning! What a fresh start!
In those second graders, I saw wonder and surprise. Those emotions stood in contrast to my focus – at least at first – that had drifted to a broken slide, and a tardy staff member slipping in the side door. I didn’t miss the point of the activity all together, but I noticed how my eyes opened onto a different world.
Most days, I skip this sort of start-up step. When I open my eyes, it’s still dark out. The day hits with its random force. I stumble around a bit and run a mental list of incoming events and situations. Often, the list I create has little to inspire, but these kinds of days, I explain to myself, are inevitable part of what I do. Time to lean in and be thankful for employment.
Flashing back to a big meeting I attended in Sacramento years ago, I recall lots of middle management folks packed the room to take notes on the latest mandates, rules, and guidelines for one silly thing or another. I am a long way from remembering any specifics of that meeting. But, I can still picture one older woman who stood up and introduced herself as a former assistant superintendent. When she spoke, I noted her hardened face, bent back and reddened eyes. It was the hardness in her voice that made me most uneasy. Would that be me? Is that what happens to old leaders?
Might waking up, by its very nature, push us toward a better relationship with the what-if? For me to harden into a tight and battered site leader, wouldn’t I have had to ignore or deny a great deal? Plentiful evidence confirms the following: Each day brings an unknown. Even if I try to shut out the mysteries and the wonders, they still happen – I just end up the loser for having missed them.
Maybe it’s better to allow the experience of being alive squeeze me. Let it stink and smell sweet all at once. Or let me ride it as if I were riding a twisting road with my eyes closed. What I want after all is for a way to see the whole of what is – even if once in a while – when I once again open my eyes.