thunderhead-ursula-salzmannHours ago, I found Shannon O’Neil, a small-boned fifth grader, sitting in a rumple of hoodie and big blue jeans, outside the door of his classroom. Kicked out, it seemed. Ms. Glenda Jackson, twenty-seven year veteran teacher with a short fuse, often kicked out that which made no sense to her. Shannon today fit that description.

Also, “out” in this case meant outdoors. He had been told to sit on a slab of concrete that led from the classroom to the playground- exposed thereby to a chilly on-shore wind and hunkered in preparation for an oncoming set of thunderheads. I might not have recognized him except for a single shock of red hair that curled up from beneath the hood.

“Red? (as the kids called him)? Did Ms. Jackson toss you out?”

He nodded. I told him to take a walk with me to the school’s labyrinth. I take kids (and myself) there to travel the turns because nothing changes when we sit. We must move through stuck places and shaded moods just as we might crawl our way from a thicket.

Movement presented no challenge to Red, who, as a rule, could not sit still. Quite the opposite. He danced without shame and didn’t need much of an excuse to sing as well. So, we walked and talked.

“Do you know why she tossed you out?” He looked up at me with green eyes. The shock of red hair waved before his face like a flag of surrender – I said “let’s go” and we stepped to the mouth of the maze. To set things up, I stretched out a preparatory tale.

“Your dad’s people invented these labyrinths. That means you inherit them. All you have to do is to walk, stay inside the lines, and listen to what you hear inside your head. Your head is always talking. When you get half way, we’ll check in. Walk as if the blacktop were made of eggs. Try not to break a single one.”

He took his first steps and I listened to my own thoughts as I observed his progress. For example, I thought about how we get messages we call ‘signs’ – these are not voices from the great beyond, but instead, secrets from within that get reflected in what we see, touch, hear, or smell. I  breathed in as I considered how stunning it was to have a universe that works this way.

He took twelve minutes to walk halfway where I joined him. We turned west to face the ocean and the gathering clouds. We could both see to the horizon and hear sounds from the streets. I took the moment to place a few more words in his freckled ear:

“Sun rises from the east, but clouds come from the west here. Clouds carry messages from far away and someday, you’ll feel your heart in clouds as they fly over. Crazy for sure, but maybe true too. . . He didn’t speak so I asked  “Are you ready to go back?”

He shrugged but he nodded. I took him back to his classroom door, opened the door for him, made eye contact with Ms. Jackson, and watched him walk to his seat. He did not belong in a desk or in a classroom for that matter. I saw him at the bow of a boat, sniffing sea foam from rough seas. Some day his fate, perhaps, though he’d have to wait. And while waiting and the odds would have to play out,  the waiting could serve to make the finding that much richer.


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