“The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” (Psalm 16:6)
The morning sun is shining through the tall eucalypts, creating lines on the Parkway. I am driving down this narrow road that has taken me to school every working day for the last five terms. Today is my last day at school and I am taking in everything as I drive.
There are only three roads out of the peninsula where I live, but this narrow road is the one I take most often. It is so familiar to me that some days I wonder how I got to work at all. Today is different. I am using all my senses to soak up the seemingly insignificant, to mark this day in my memory somehow. It’s interesting what you see when you really look.
I think about the lines, the shadows that are cast on the road and the spaces of sunlight in-between. How magical is the sunlight, I think to myself, suddenly recalling how dark this road used to be the year my daughter had cancer; the year this same road took me past the school where I work to join the highways that lead to the hospital.
I don’t remember the lines being on the road back then. Mostly, I imagine, it is because I left before the sun rose, eager to be by her bed before she awoke, before the round nurses stabbed her insensitively for blood, bruising her veins, stripping her dignity and making me mad. But today the lines are there, taking on the shapes of the trees in shadowed silhouettes, combinations of wide and narrow strokes. They remind me of the barcode label on supermarket cans.
At school we teach the children about lines and conformity. It is necessary. We must have rules and systems and order. If we do not, we cannot function as a society. The rules and the lines and the consistency of it all help us feel safe.
One of the first things I teach my class every year is how to line up. We practise this again and again. We take turns at having different leaders and I remind them that even if they are the leader they must all be behind me or they are out of place. In no time they follow me like ducks around the school in beautiful, silent formation.
Every now and then one escapes from the pack when they think I don’t know. They get distracted because they see something to climb, or decide to dash off for a quick drink at the bubbler. I turn around and smile. I tell the group how wonderfully clever they are at walking in a straight line and notice how quickly the absconders return to be included in the praise. They don’t know that I admire them for their ability to escape the norm.
It is my role as a teacher to admire conformity, so I do. It works wonders to praise what you desire and life works. You move around the school and no one falls over. You return library books, you borrow more, you put on hats, you hang up bags and everything is orderly and manageable.
Every now and then it is necessary in school to put on a performance. You remind the children how clever they are at lining up and you tell them that we are going to practise performing the song we’ve been learning on the basketball court. You show the first child where she needs to stop so that all the children can fit in the line. You demonstrate how they should all put their right hand on the shoulder of the person in front of them so that they are evenly spaced, and you show them which way to face.
All your words float off into the air. No one really gets what you are trying to say. Instead they continue walking aimlessly in the line in which you taught them to walk. There is so much to learn in Kindy and you sigh, knowing that if you are patient they will get it eventually. Most of your practice is spent getting onto the ‘stage.’ After about 30 minutes you are ready to practise the song. They perform magnificently, singing with gusto and the cuteness factor is 100%.
Then when the day comes to perform you remind them everything again and when the iPod begins to play you notice that most of the kids have forgotten your instructions. All they really want to do is wave at their parents or to sing, or to bob on the spot. Some want to hide their face in their jumper, but to the best of my ability I have taught them to conform. I’m trying to conform as well, but somewhere on the road I discovered this voice inside of me. I neither know how to shut it down nor how to get it out to make it say what I want it to say; so instead I rose early every morning and I wrote my pages. My pages became my obsession that led to two things – a blog and a book manuscript.
It’s not much of a book but a book nonetheless and the people who saw it were kind. They saw its potential. They saw my potential. They told me to keep going, to keep walking along that line and to pick myself up if I fell over, to dust myself off, to start again. I was terrified. I had written everything I knew, but after that I had no idea what came next.
On a whim, I listened to my friend who gave me the courage to send the awful words from my manuscript to the clever, writing lady who only works with published writers. Somehow she saw my potential too. So this is the beginning I guess. Awkwardly I stand in line unsure what comes next. I try to watch the others so I know what to do but the truth is, I have no idea. What I do have are a whole lot of words and a story I want to craft into something worthy of reading.
As I sit at the table, my teacher speaks about writing and I take in every word. Her language is delectable. “You all have great stories,” she tells us, “but the experience doesn’t make the story; the words create the story.” I write it all down, absorbing, digesting it all, wondering how I came to be in this apartment in Bronte just down the road from where I studied education a quarter century ago. I think about the circle of life and how far I have come. I wonder why it took so long to get here when all I’ve ever wanted to do was to write.
I think about the dark space where all was death, destruction and despair. Yet I know that God has been with me in these places. I read a few weeks back in Exodus 20:21 that “the people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.” I was so encouraged by this. I, like Moses, have found God in the thick darkness. I have known the greatest of fears and the nearest of comfort. I have heard his voice as he scooped me to the surface time and time again. I have seen that “God rises up out of the sea like a treasure in the waves,” just as Thomas Merton wrote.
As I place my terrible manuscript on the table, my teacher tells me, “These are books, you must make space for them.” I picture the children in the lines as I signal to them to drop their right arm. I tell myself to make space for this; it’s time to sing. I hear the melody and I begin to rise – hoping my voice won’t fail me, hoping I remember the words. I think about the barcode on the supermarket can that shows the virtue of conformity. I know I have broken away from the pack; I’ve climbed the railings that are not safe to climb and I’ve snuck a drink from the bubbler. I think about what it is to be safe and how to live a predictable, orderly life; and as I break free, I decide it’s a risk worth taking.
What about you? What are you making space for and what risks will you take?