I love nature. Even the scary stuff. Even the gross stuff. Nature fits together in a wonderful way. It is complex. It meshes. It works. Nature is proof of God for me.
I’m afraid of Alzheimer’s. I’ve seen what it can do. I don’t want to be confused or more forgetful than I already am. I don’t want to be mean to those who love me most.
In my third grade class this week we wrote about our loves and fears. It wasn’t my idea. I was reading this awesome little book to the kids. It’s called Heartbeat, by Sharon Creech. In the story Annie, our heroine, has an unusual assignment in her middle school English class. She must write about her loves and her fears. We read Annie’s list and how she felt kind of different from her peers. Her list was so very distinct.
After we finished that little section, Hannah piped up, “Hey! We should do that!” I love it when that happens. Many of the children agreed and wanted our next writing workshop to start with a reflection on this idea.
The children chose how to approach this project. I was thinking of a “quick write”, where we spend about five minutes writing as fast as possible, and then wrapping up the writing for another minute before sharing. This was no five-minute job. There was a lot of looking around, a lot of deep thought, lots of pencil twiddling. Some kids flipped their papers over and would write loves and fears alternately. Others stuck with one list until their ideas were exhausted before switching to the other. Altogether we wrote for about 20 minutes before collecting the papers.
We saved the lists for our end of the day wrap-ups. We took turns going around the circle sharing one fear at a time. We saved the loves for another day. We went around clockwise, every child sharing some word or phrase until everyone in the circle shared. Then we went round again. And again. There were some giggles and some pauses of stony silence as an idea struck a chord. It felt good for us to share our fears. We opened ourselves, we gave voice to what might have been gathering power inside of us. We were made vulnerable by our admissions. We got to know each other a little better. No one laughed at another’s fears. No one passed when it was his/her turn. When it was time to go home, and there were so many left on our lists someone said, “Let’s do this again.”
When I watched the children write so intensely, and I heard their lists of fears – it made me kind of sad. I guess being fearful is part of the human condition. There is no way to avoid it. Even very little babies may fear loud noises. But it made me acutely aware of my role in their lives. When we studied the Civil War or Civil Rights or read the news over the two years I have been with them, did I play a part in developing some of their fears? Did I make their lives a little more uncomfortable by bringing up bullying or reading books like Not My Fault or Pink and Say?
At the same time, their lists of fears… gives me hope. If children fear war and violence, and they are willing to write it and to say it aloud, might they be willing to take a stand against these things as adults? If they fear ignorance or reckless leaders, perhaps they will work against them when they have the power to make a difference. I have told them many times that they are the leaders of tomorrow. That they will probably be the ones who clean up the messes that us grown-ups are leaving behind.
So here are some of our fears. I wrote from one child's list to another just as they were shared in the classroom. Imagine 23 of us sitting cross-legged on the floor, papers in front of us. One voice at a time.
Guns, getting sick, rats, the devil, bullies, fires, falling things, sounds at night, global warming, never seeing my family again, 6th grade and leaving this school, monster truck rallies, being alone sometimes, hypocrites, getting old, getting yelled at, my parents dying, leaders who want to be super-heroes, bed bugs, falling from a great height, getting lost in the woods, Bloody Mary, war.
When I am feeling sick it makes me scared, copperhead snakes, burglars, bungee jumping, people who cuss a lot, bombs, hate, earthquakes, Halloween stuff sometimes, cancer, never being able to read or write again, sadness in the world, steep hills, if my daddy misses something important, gossip, aliens, people who always want their way, getting in trouble, my nightmares may come true, skunks, hatred, my family dying, being outside alone at night, bullets, when adults fight.
Getting shots at the doctor, roller coasters, electric shocks, fierce animals, mean people, going to jail, earthquakes, car crashes, my cats dying, getting drafted for a war, outer space, leaving this class, scorpions, segregation, burns – they hurt for a long time, funerals, smoking cigarettes, my friends will some day turn on me, really high bridges, people who think they are better, having the past come back, getting beat up, growing up, chain saws, Chuckie.