Benjamin’s teacher was a big woman and her chasing days were over. On warm days, her feet swelled. She made a flat confession over the phone: ” You get the big bucks. You chase him. I will never catch him. I’ve got a class to teach.”
I grabbed my walkie-talkie and headed out the door.
This curly headed, big eyed boy didn’t hide well. I found him in less than a minute at the far north side of the playground, sitting criss-cross on the corner of a four-square court. He had his back toward the school building. I approached from the side and called his name. “Benjamin, what’s going on?” He didn’t move. I stepped closer and that’s when he blew up.
His explosion came in screams – Get away from me! And in hates – I hate this school! And in wants- I want to go home! Two neighbors walked by and looked on. Here we were, working it through on a wide-open playground under a full morning sun.
My message to the front office: Hold the calls. I may be out here a while.
I stepped ten paces away and sat on the edge of the last bench next to the yard’s back gate. His screams continued. I determined it best not to carry him inside. My apparent options: Wait and watch.
As I sat, I tried to monitor what was happening with Benjamin. I noticed the flush and the fade of his skin as his emotions rose and receded. As I watched his color change, I started asking myself questions: Who is this little guy, anyway? What’s happening just beneath that flush?
I also noticed things about myself. His outburst reminded me of a time in grade school when a bigger boy stole a red ball from me. I remember how he taunted me by holding it over my head. Come on! Get it! Grab it! Like Benjamin, I blew up and flew at the older boy, swinging, slapping and screaming. The bigger kid backed up and I can remember his face. I’m sure that I shocked him.
Skin hides a myriad of things. I have to adjust and redirect these energies underneath even as they conspire to show out in actions or comments that I can’t take back. As much happens under the skin now as when I was a boy. I get plenty of practice, however. So now, on most days, I can keep my cool. Benjamin had no such sophisticated system.
The vulnerability of a thin skin is something all of us share. Old-school coaching tells us to tighten the jaw, and strut through the stumbles. But my skin, like every man’s, is nothing more than a membrane. I feel it all and all of it shows up somewhere, somehow. As I sat waiting for Benjamin to calm down, I wondered who ever thought we could get stronger by trying to be tough.
Benjamin. No one gets an easy ride. Today, I am here for you so that you can be there for someone else tomorrow. Whenever you’re ready to talk, I am ready. Waiting, you’ll soon discover, is a big part of how we teach and then, how we learn.