A child can come to you like an open palm. She can also wrap herself the way that same hand might gather itself around a sparrow’s egg. Maeve, on most days, came this latter way – turned inward, quiet, hidden. No joy, no bounce, all business.
She did, however, pout like a pro. This fact came to the surface during a rogue game of dodge ball in which the ball slapped into her mid section, knocking the wind and the tough pride out of her.
She doubled over and when she stood upright again, tears dampened her face. But fierce-as-fire black eyes, a tight pony tail, and fist-clenched hands led playmates to back up and leave her alone.
Maeve, sweat-pantsed, set-jawed, silent thin boy of a girl took her battered but still-tough self to a splintered bench on the yard’s opposite corner. There she sat for five or six minutes with no one daring to approach.
No one except Damion, my playground’s self-anointed jester who in his oversized trousers, ballooning drawers, torn t-shirt and floppy red high tops, seemed an improbable foyle. This loose-in-the-joints clown with nothing buttoned and nothing tied, bowed his nappy head before her, in King Louis style, as if to say “My lady, what brings this shadow upon thee.”
I decided to watch and let the interaction play out. No way could I predict how things might unfold.
For a playground minute – and playground minutes can take forever – he hopped forward and back, did a cartwheel, then three hand stands that flopped his tattered shirt over his head and flashed his skinny rib cage. He even opened his arms as if to sing to her. He persisted and appeared determined. He would not be denied. I could see that much. So, I stood back. Then, I heard him say:
“Come on Little Maeve. Let me see that ten-tooth smile.”
With these words, she sat up. She had more than ten teeth in her head. Maybe she intended to correct his count. Damion’s words came on like the gentle tease of an elder, but the surprise of them combined with the goof in his grin snapped the granite out of her.
Then it came. Softening, warming, yielding, and a glimmer of light that shone from deep within her black eyes. I saw her smile broaden as she tried to shoo the boy away, and I recalled that I had never before seen a smile quite like that. I was witnessing a first.
The dictionary defines toughness as “the ability to absorb energy and bend without fracturing. Toughness is the amount of energy something (or someone) can absorb before rupturing.” So, what might Maeve’s breaking point be? What if we all allowed her to sit? What if Damion had not wanted to intervene? Oh, leave her be. She’ll get over it. Isn’t that our shrill song most days?
We grind and gripe and we let the sparrow’s egg be crushed by circumstance, bias or a bad mood. This morning, kindness came in the body and soul of the nine-year old Fool who made it his business to chase shadows away. This afternoon, after a reflective day where Maeve’s redemption worked its way through my own hard heart, I am wishing for more of the Fool’s magic and for days that end in openings that such grace can bring.