A climbing structure sits anchored to the north corner of my school’s playground. Four thick cords rise from asphalt and come together in a crow’s nest twenty feet high. A child with strong hands can scramble up to claim that perch, and from there, she can see west to the shoreline and beyond. Once a child declared to me that, from that nest, she could catch clouds if she had long enough fingers.
Yesterday, a fast moving storm approached from the west. The edge of this storm threw sun-tinged clouds and bursts of rain on shore. As I walked toward the playground, I filled with awe for these clouds – as if they could speak: Here we come! On our way!
I got to the yard’s north gate but stopped short. There, overhead, I discovered a child perched in the crow’s nest. She faced westward into the wind. Through the gusts, though it was too dark to see detail, I did hear her soft singing. Then, light peeked between the tumble of clouds and I glimpsed the profile of an eleven year old named Dana.
Several puzzling facts required my attention: A young girl, alone at this hour, perched on the crow’s nest. While I saw no immediate danger, the girl did seem lost in trance, eyes fixed on a glowing horizon point where sun would soon rise. Clouds piled on and wind kicked up with the smell of rain. Then came a quiet, special thing: Dana’s eyes closed, her long hair blew back, and she opened her arms wide like wings. She waited a minute, and then opened her eyes again. Throughout, she had no idea I stood nearby.
A storyteller named Roman Payne once said: “Never did the world make a queen of a girl who hides in houses and dreams without traveling.” If I had to guess, I’d say I witnessed a point where at least one child started to take flight!
All these facts speak to a small story: The ragged edge of a fast moving storm. A girl who came to school too early. The absence of parent to accompany her. Then, of course, a solitary, pre-dawn climb upon a piece of playground equipment. My hunch, however, is that the biggest awakenings arrive in pockets like these, when we assume that no one is watching. Words could never suffice to describe what a heart can understand.
Dana opened her eyes and chose to look west. Maybe an angel of solitude descended to sit upon her shoulder. This storm-studded sunrise was hers to hold. I chose to let her be.
“Learning needs no place and change requires no herald.” This quote crossed my mind as I walked into the building and raindrops commenced to fall. I hustled to batton things down and do the reckoning for a rainy school day. Dana, for her part, would soon show up wet, brimming with secrets – coming inside after her encounter with something as big as a storm and as high as thunderheads.
How much I stumble upon when I set out looking for nothing at all!
Dedicated to the spirit in my former student, Dana, who came to mind as the girl who wakened.