A “beginning” showed up this morning only after I stepped into – and stood in – a “middle” that made no sense. This middle included a small-boned, third grade girl named Tacia who sat crumpled in a corner near dumpsters, wearing thread-thin daisy pink sneakers, no socks, sweatpants big enough to belong to her big brother, and a man’s knit cap (brown) pulled down so low that it covered all but her nostrils, mouth, and chin.
“Tacia? What you doing back here?” A brief wait followed this short question. Then, I asked a second: “What’s going on under that cap?”
With this second question I leaned forward to lift the cap off, but her little hands flashed from the coat pockets and snagged the cap by its edges. She tugged down and sent a message: This cap ain’t comin’ off. OK, so what next?
I could not leave her there and I did not want to lift her up. I looked at my watch, made a mental note of surroundings and circumstances, and began negotiating. I learned that Ashley, her best friend, had called her out when she walked through the back gate before the start of school: “Tacia, what happened to your hair. It’s all like the side of your head blew up.” That got things started.
I also learned that Tacia’s aunt braided only the right side. But Tacia’s account became sparse and the sequence of events got scattered. She either would not or could not share the whole story. Result – hair half done, no socks clean, sweats too big to stay on without assist, and the presence of the fore mentioned cap. Last, Tacia made this comment: “So ugly you gonna crawl up in this cap and die.”
How had I stumbled into this slippery place?
Whenever I hit those pockets – places where my heart gets pried open, they often start like this. Blunt impact with a situation I do not understand. Frustration when the simple and obvious become complex. Then the arrival at this pit that feels like emptiness. To cross over, I need to step back from the economy of quick judgment. I have to relax to receive all of the clues about how to proceed. The way forward has to arrange itself.
I managed to get Tacia to class, but things did not feel resolved.
I checked in with my third grade teacher at lunch time. “How could she get so upset about her hair?” My colleague brought it home to me in this way: “For Tacia, her hair is doing some story telling. It shows secret things about her insides and says more than she wants it to. It’s not just hair, Principal. It’s so much more than that.”
So, for this morning, our ‘no hats’ rule got set aside. Tacia stayed in school. Truth came out and compassion came in. She trusted that we would take care of her – little body and big soul. She schooled a Principal so that he might see more. She took good from the mouth of bad – especially for an eight year old – maybe for anybody. At day’s end, I watched her exit by the back gate – cap low and in place, sweats drooping but held. A little girl upright girl who grew when given the space to fix things her own way.
You might take exception to today’s exceptions. For me, I call what came our way a certain blessing.