Last week while I was teaching penny whistle, in the yurt at Adelbert Farm, I had an experience happen that cracked me wide open.
I was teaching a new tune that had incorporated a new note. After learning the tune, I said I had another new tune that had something to do with the Christmas season and was a favorite to everybody at this time of year – Jingle Bells. “Yaaaaaay!” Excitement was in the air.
After a few minutes of working as a group, I invited them to take a few minutes to work on it themselves. Nate was working hard. Struggling actually. I could see he was really trying to concentrate. Sitting next to him was Alison, blazing through the tune. She also plays the violin, so the penny whistle is easy for her. I think there is music in her head much of the time. To her, learning a new tune is simply something new to accomplish, and not much more than that. Certainly not difficult. However, that is not the case for my little friend, Nate.
Just as I was about to say something to him to affirm his efforts, he took his whistle and bopped Alison on the arm, and said her name in a way that clearly showed he was annoyed. She ignored him, playing phrase after phrase. Really well I might add. Nate bopped her a few more times and just as he was about to bop her again, I reached out to stop him. “Nate, are you frustrated?” I asked him. His eyes immediately filled with tears. Nodding, he said, “Yes.” “Do you think you could tell Alison, with your words, instead of hitting her with the pennywhistle, what you are frustrated about?” He said he couldn’t concentrate, that he was trying but he just couldn’t do it. He then drew his knees up, wrapped his arms around them, and put his head down and the pent up frustrations from weeks of not quite “getting it”, came pouring out. She looked at him there, head down, weeping, as we all did, grasping the situation, and seemed to collect her thoughts.
In the most patient, diplomatic, and loving manner, she spoke. “I know you are frustrated… you’ve hit me before but didn’t use your words… if you’d used your words maybe I’d know why you are frustrated and I could do something about it.” Her eyes then filled with tears… silence. She is seven years old. I could hardly speak while I watched this beautiful unfolding. I got choked up, feeling something akin to her sadness, but different. To my surprise, my seven year old self appeared like a rabbit out of a hat, and now the three of us were all knee deep in this moment. It wasn’t just two children and their teacher. It was simply the three of us, three people, all connected by the present moment. However, what the three of us were feeling was unique to each of us.
Nate looked up, hearing the compassion in her voice as much as the actual words. Then he listened with intention. The other kids just watched, wondering what Scene Two would bring in this small, yet very big, drama playing itself out before their eyes.
What did follow was a wonderful discussion on using words when we’re frustrated and how we all feel that way sometimes.
But what took me by surprise, was the sudden realization of knowing exactly how Nate felt.
More to come in the next post…