Last Thursday, several fifth graders and I came together on the upper playground. I had a project in mind and hoped they might help get things started. We stood in a small circle and I put it to them this way:
I want to create something called a labyrinth here. I need your help. Can you work with me?
Sydney, a skinny boy with big glasses, eyed me over the top of his lenses. What do you need? I don’t get what you’re trying to do.
I knew little more than I could surmise from a printed step-by-step. I read the first step out loud. Sydney then snagged the instructions from my hand. He pulled the paper close to his face, read for two minutes, and lowered the page:
We need to find the middle of the big circle. That comes first. Where should we put the center?
Then, Jacinda, big-haired, loud, sang out – I wanna help. Tell me what to do, Sydney.
Before Sydney could speak, she grabbed a stick of chalk and tossed it to Lucy, a tall, blonde in striped tights. Lucy plucked the hammer and a single nail from my tool bucket, and skipped ten yards away. She put her left foot down: How about here?
Stop! Sydney took my measuring tape and rolled it out to Lucy’s foot. He called out two more directions: Make a mark in the middle and one on the outside!
Lucy made two marks and tossed chalk to Travis, a wiry long haired boy who sported a skater sag and white hightops. Sydney spat out numbers and scanned the circle . Diameter of the outside circle, 60 feet! 30 feet from the center marks the outside! Look at the tape! Travis waited for a second, as if computing something. Center circle twelve feet total diameter. Go! Paths, two feet. GO! Tape and chalk began to fly.
Then, Lucy took the tape from Sydney and scrambled in sideways circles around the middle, chalking concentric rings outward, each one wider than the one before. We watched. When she put down the last X on the outer most ring, Sydney wrapped with a short sentence:
Now we are ready to paint!
I called time out! I asked everyone to come back together. Look what you’ve done! I said and pointed to the blacktop. At our feet, a chalk ghost of a labyrinth now waited. So cool, said Travis. It felt like dancing! I sent the kids back to class and stayed behind. It came together for me like this:
When finished, the labyrinth will have four chambers. The heart also has four chambers. As I stood on the playground that Thursday, my heart’s four chambers opened.
I get these moments where big truths want to rise up. They live in my body, not in my head. Motion and connection bring them out. I tell myself to be quiet – You are getting close. Close, close, ever so close.
Even when you don’t know the moves, you can find your way. Ideas can travel without the spoken word. Bodies can dance together, infused by unified visions of beginning and end. I want, more than most things, that young people find ways to open the top hatch and sniff the sweet air of the possible. All that awaits, one notch up.