“WHY IS THAT A FEAT?”

Lucky Apple

I’ll say it again: I love the directness of children.

Sometimes it provides comic relief, as when, one September not too long ago, the school principal visited the kindergarten classroom where I used to volunteer, to greet the matriculating pupils. A little blond boy, who would become a favorite of mine, studied him quizzically—head cocked, hand on his chin—musing as if half to himself, “I wonder what happened to all of your hair…” The principal’s shiny pate flushed, and he seemed to choke on his words, but gamely he replied that he didn’t know, either.

Often a child’s candor is a refreshing change from the subterfuge of adults, with our emotional trench coats and back alleys, to say nothing of political doublespeak. Tikes playing with trains are the real conductors on the so-called Straight-Talk Express. (There are exceptions, of course, as I’ve acknowledged before.)

Last year I worked with a boy who’d been held back for issues that had been labeled “ADHD.” His family life was chaotic* from morning till night and undermined our therapeutic work during in-home visits in the same way, I’m guessing, that it limited his ability to do homework and engage in his own development. A meeting with faculty and staff at his locally notorious school demonstrated nothing so much as their lack of comprehension for his circumstances.

He and I had one precious office visit—our first visit, before transportation became a problem for his mom. I learned so much! We did one of my favorite focusing activities: I asked him to close his eyes while I struck my singing bowl, then raise his hand when he couldn’t hear its fading resonance anymore.** Then, I asked him to do the same thing, except this time when he could no longer hear the bell, he was to listen for anything else he could hear around him, and raise his hand when he was ready to report back.

I’m not taking authorial license to say that I’ve rarely seen such a look of concentration as on that boy’s face in the sanctuary of the office.

I was surprised and impressed to learn from him that there was more than one clock in the room; I had never noticed. (It wasn’t my space.) He was perfectly still and observant, without evincing the slightest self-consciousness. After, he spoke offhandedly of his excellent hearing. I exclaimed over his ability, in a different exercise, to shift his awareness from the top of his head to his right baby toe, such that both parts grew tingly in turn in response to being noticed; I called it a feat. After I’d defined the word for him, his response was, “Why?” What was so extraordinary? Graciously he seemed to give me the benefit of the doubt.

It’s a feat because it involves executive function. Because that’s an important way to use the brain. Because that’s the very area in which he was considered weak. Because, in fact, many of us barely notice our creaturely existence in this world, except in the most obvious ways. Because, because, because—so many possible answers. But really—why, indeed? It was a good question.

Speaking of feats, the apple pictured above was plucked from the orchard equivalent of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. And it was good—tannic and tart. A worthy reminder of many life lessons: a spindly trunk, and branches just laden with fruit.

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*This is a capsule version of his situation, written from my outsider’s perspective, and should—in fairness to his mom especially—be read and understood as such. No piece of writing, however careful, ever tells or ever can tell the full tale. Not that I was endeavoring to, clearly; but I’m conscious of taking a liberty when writing about anyone but myself, and it matters to me to note that, as a caveat.

**I can’t claim to have invented this awesome activity. I think it’s fairly common in the world of mindfulness, but I know that Susan Kaiser Greenland describes it nicely in her book, The Mindful Child.

4 thoughts on ““WHY IS THAT A FEAT?”

  1. It would certainly be a feat for me. During mindfulness training as a means of recognising an oncoming migraine, that was one exercise that was attempted. Without some external stimuli I was simply unable to make myself aware of any body part. I’m not sure who got more frustrated, me or the therapist.

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    • I’ve never heard of mindfulness training to recognize oncoming migraines – but that makes sense, given that the movement arose in this country first as a pain-management method. I hope some other exercise was more helpful for you. Interestingly, I have a friend with Asperger’s traits (not officially diagnosed) who joined me in an experiment using magnesium “oil” (which is just a solution of magnesium flakes and water) on the soles of our feet. The first time I tried it, it burned instantly and acutely, as though I were barefooting my way through hell. (It doesn’t hurt to use anymore, except if I have a cut.) For him, there was a long delay, and less acute sensation; but at the same time, there are lots of sensations in life that, based on his report, are probably much more acute for him than for me.

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  2. Your blog is a quiet, sane, reflective place for remembering the inherent worth and dignity of all people and for finding hope in a chaotic world. I wish I knew how to post this. So, so lovely Elizabeth. Kimberly

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    • I appreciate your message, Kimberly. I was struggling to finish this piece (and, especially, to post the photo), after seeing recent images from the refugee crisis. But writing is a way of helping myself remember positive things and reasons to hope, and I want to share that if I can.

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