A Saturday Caesura
Sneaking into my classroom is nearly impossible. With the door situated near the front of the room, everyone sees who arrives late. So it was obvious when one of the grade 12 boys tried to slip in unnoticed. As if that was ever going to happen. That it was not me he was concerned about was also obvious because we made eye-contact while he skulked just outside the doorway. Still, his behaviour was uncharacteristically fearful. I know English is not everyone’s favourite subject and this particular student would certainly choose friends and farming over fixing sentence fragments, but really? Get in the classroom and sit down already.
He would take a cautious step, peek into the room, and, turtle-like, retreat to the hallway. This continued for too long. I told him (again) to come in and sit down. The whole class told him to come in and sit down — one voice in particular rising above the others, overly inviting, almost taunting.
I’ve been a teacher long enough to catch on to student shenanigans fairly quickly, but the truth behind this little scene surprised me — not because of anything overtly serious or sinister at play, but because it was so blatantly simple.
They were playing tag.
“It” was already in class, patiently waiting for his intended tag to arrive. In fact, this tag game involved several students, clandestine trips to each other’s homes and places of work, various levels of secrecy as to who was actually “it,” even a group chat to coordinate who was playing and who wasn’t.
Several days later, the game was still going. One morning as class ended, a harried shuffle and scuffle with giggles and shrieks somehow led to a perfectly executed quadruple play, several breathless (masked) students, and a new “it” resigned to her role as they tumbled into the hallway.
I’ve thought about the game all week. As sophisticated as they have made it, this group of grade 12 students are still playing one of the oldest, simplest playground-backyard-indoor-rainy-day games of all time. Tag. Touch someone and they are “it,” charged with the task of touching someone else. The game has twin but opposing objectives: touch and avoiding touch. I’m wondering if the game for these teenagers isn’t really about the avoidance though. They are, like all of us, inundated with messages regarding social and physical distancing. The length of a hockey stick, 46 Timbits, 2 beavers, 1 cow — however you measure the recommended distance, it doesn’t allow for touch. For good reason.
But there is also a good reason why we use phrases like, “Let’s keep in touch,” or, “I’ll get in touch with you later.” We use the language of touch when we talk about, long for, reach out for connection. We have so many tools at our fingertips for staying connected across the distance of time zones and continents, but this doesn’t take away or lessen the need for our fingers to connect with living, breathing humanity — even if it is only for the millisecond it takes to poke someone and say, “You’re it.”
The darting away to avoid being tagged back is more accurately an invitation to follow, to “keep in touch,” to extend the give and take of connecting into days and weeks and lifetimes.
Tag. You’re it.
Note: Lore Ferguson Wilbert wrote a thoughtful and articulate book on the whole concept of touch that goes far beyond a random game of tag. I recommend it! Handle With Care: How Jesus Redeems the Power of Touch in Life and Ministry