Choices, Tess Gallagher

I go to the mountain side
of the house to cut saplings,
and clear a view to snow
on the mountain. But when I look up,
saw in hand, I see a nest clutched in
most branches.
I don’t cut that one.
I don’t cut the others either.
Suddenly, in every tree,
an unseen nest
where a mountain
would be.

You’re pretty lucky this poem is speaking to me right now because otherwise this entire post was going to be about Last-Minute Meetings: 101 Ready-to-Go Games and Lessons for Busy Youth Leaders, by Todd Outcalt. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but, well, that’s what I’m reading today, and it isn’t exactly Tolstoy.  I am just so desperate to figure out how to engage the teenagers I work with in some honest, ridiculous fun that I’ve pulled out the books my husband used with middle schoolers. Outcalt’s was simply at the top of the stack, and I’ve already dog-eared quite a few pages of ideas in the category of “maybe they won’t hate me if I try this.”

The thing is though, when I was a teenager, I really had to be in the right mood for absurd fun (as an adult, I’ll take it whenever I can get it), and if I wasn’t in the mood for it, I would feel a little betrayed – as though the adults around me didn’t respect the struggle I was going through – whether it be about school, work, friends, guys, or family. I worry now that because I’m so concerned about how little time these kids have to relax, I’m going about this all wrong. I wonder just how clueless I seem to them when I try to give them a break from the very real and exhausting struggles they face every day.

When I was reading Gallagher’s poem, I was struck by how  apropos the imagery was for this situation. Sometimes I’m just gobsmacked by the enormity nestled in these teenagers. I used to see it when I taught preschool too – in an unguarded look or the unexpected pause – all of a sudden I could see the intricacy that is personhood.

It’s both frightening and beautiful to have that moment of insight, of seeing how similar a person is to a thunderstorm, or a rogue wave, or a bird’s nest. When I experience it, I feel even less equipped to help than I did when all I saw was the flash and dance that is both toddler and teen. It makes me wonder if it’s even remotely possible to bring them a little joy while playing a game where everybody has to hop like a frog or try to hit sopping wet sponges with wiffleball bats. I don’t know. I keep reading and asking and trying because I think it’s important, even though the answer always seems to recede at the same pace I move toward it.

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