☕️Just Keeping In Touch

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

☕️ Noncompliance

A Saturday Caesura

It happened on Wednesday in a grocery store parking lot. Since the COVID closures, I’ve been working at the school on Wednesdays rather than at home, partly just to feel less isolated. To maximize the ‘day out,’ I stop for groceries on the way home, and a grocery list was on my mind when I got out of the truck that day.

I started walking towards the store, then paused when I heard someone call my name. I heard it again as two grade 12 students tumbled from a car nearby and rushed in my direction.

There were hugs — sincere and unreserved. “We don’t care,” they said, “we have to hug you.” The need for connection superseded the mandated social distancing.

There were also many I-miss-yous and it’s-so-good-to-see-yous and other words from them that almost made me cry.

It was sooo good to see them.

I know closing schools and keeping people apart have been necessary measures to save lives and flatten the curve so that our medical system can effectively manage this virus. I do, I really do. But my goodness, the absolute joy of seeing just two of my students face-to-face and knowing that they were just as thrilled to see me, gave me much to ponder on the drive home. And to be honest, part of that pondering included wondering if our physical distancing non-compliance was observed by someone inclined to report us or qualified to issue fines.

I’m sad that this even had to enter my thinking. I’m sad that my current students’ faces have been resized to fit little boxes on my Chromebook screen, when the life-sized versions are so, well, full of life.

I’m sad because we are made for and need connection and relationship. Social distancing is saving lives, but it is also shrivelling our spirits. I don’t think I realized just how much I have been affected by not being able to fully interact with others until that parking lot encounter. It continues to fill my heart and fuel my love for all the wonderful, generous, loving young people in my world.

I miss them, I really do.