Yard duty Monday morning began with clouds punching across a square patch of blue above our playground. Then, in the span of half a recess, a storm front arrived in full and paused overhead.
Temperatures dropped and I turtled up in my big coat, preparing for the wait-and-watch. If a storm broke, I would rush the children inside. If not, we would tough it out together. Outdoor air, even if cold, did wonders for little brains.
I keyed in on one lone six-year old, Kylee, who sat on the tire swing, dolled up in red mittens, long stocking cap, and a powder blue coat that swallowed her whole. She had her eyes on the sky and the swing to herself. Meanwhile, two dozen other first-graders huddled in their puffy grays near the school’s double doors. A few boys blew ‘smoke’ rings with hot breath. No child spoke more than a word here or there.
Just too cold!
Then my ears popped. Barometric pressure had to be dropping still. Chills and an ache in my knee told me my wait-and-watch would end soon. I slid blue hands from coat pockets to ready my frozen whistle. Time to give the signal, thought I. That’s when Kylee rose up on the swing, looked toward the clouds and uttered a single word.
On cue, snow fell, soundless and ample, white and vanishing on blacktop. I tucked my frozen whistle in my coat pocket, looked up to see what was happening to the children:
A half dozen boys popped their heads from puffy hoods, looked upward, and repeated Kylee’s chant. Snow. The word rose up in rising steam from the mouths of wide- eyed first graders as they drifted into the center of the yard. Then Kylee opened her mouth, stuck out her tongue and waited. On that pink flesh, flakes lit for less than an instant.
Both to the left and the right children clustered on every corner of the playground. All stood with faces toward the heavens, surrendering to the prospect of a flake landing on the tip of their tongue. When the bell rang, not a single child moved.
Present moment. . .
I hear people talk all the time about becoming more present – and how can we find our way back there when we get lost. Presence exists in the instance before a storm and in the wait for the snowflake that falls to an outstretched tongue. Like a lot of things that matter, now exists everywhere and nowhere at all. If you try to see it, capture it or reach for it, you can make it disappear.
I saw kids scoop up snowflakes that melted in their mittens. They chased them and licked them from tree limbs along the west edge of the yard. I saw a single flake light and melt on the tip of Kylee’s warm tongue. Then I saw two dozen six year-olds stand silent as snowfall stopped and clouds opened to cold blue once again.
In truth, we don’t ever get to the here and now by grasping. We know it from trace memories or from anticipation. A mystery that may come just as a storm arrives, and may linger on in the moments after it goes. Children can point out where to look. What happens next is up to us.