By Laura Moore
Glancing at my social media pages this morning, I couldn't help but be inspired as I gazed at the beaming mugs of children posing for first day pictures, showing off spiffed up threads, eager grins and signs bearing the name of their teacher and the grade they are about to enter.
Those images always wet my eyes when I consider the significance of the moment they capture, when I think about what the next 186 school days will hold for the children smiling for the camera.
As those kids stand on their front porch, or in the hallway, or on the lawn of their school, each of them is hovering on the precipice of a new beginning, a new chance, a new set of rules, a new batch of challenges and a new well of opportunities. They are poised for adventure--for the next leg of their journey--toes propped and ready to carry them forward where they will engage in work and play that will help them build, rebuild, create and recreate.
Over 186 school days, they will embrace new skills as they learn how to assign words to ideas, manipulate numbers, ask questions, create beauty, generate sounds or connect their present to the past. And their experiences will press them to widen and deepen both their minds and their hearts each time they are called to unearth their sometimes sturdy, sometimes wavering, sometimes strangled conviction to stand up for what is right. They will grow through their experiences, they will learn the bounds of their own strength, and they will discover how courageous and powerful they are each time they make themselves vulnerable.
Though they certainly arrive with the baggage of previous years: an armful of mistakes, a handful of doubters, and a stretch of road littered with bumps, the fact remains that on this day, their slate is strikingly clean. The grade card is clear, the sketchbook is blank, the pencils are full of graphite, the call lists and team rosters are empty and the possibilities are endless. When they stand for that picture, they have no idea who might cross their path, which future thoughts might fill them with wonder, or who they might become. They have no idea which adventures will shape their hearts or which challenges will make them shine.
All they know is that today is the beginning. The scary, exciting, highly anticipated beginning. The line in the sand, the start of the race, the dawn of a new chapter. The date on the calendar they don't want to think about until it is finally here, waiting for them, begging for them to arrive.
But once it comes, they do too.
And so should we.
See, in my opinion, we should all arrive--figuratively, of course--and celebrate on the first day of school. Regardless of how many years have passed since we stood smiling on our front porch, once a year, we should all dig down deep and discover the same courage we ask our kids to find. In honor of them, we should open our arms and embrace our fears. We should hype up our hopes and wonder what's possible. We should set new goals, anticipate new joys, meet new people, inspire new dreams, explore new opportunities, defend justice, reset, re-begin and re-imagine.
Today, we should bare our teeth, hold up our chins, dance to our own little tune, swim within a fresh wave of optimism, and tell our feet to march forward, onward, upward toward a renewed, reinvigorated version of ourselves. Today, we should try--just like them--to learn how we can make the world just a little bit better, how we can sift through the injustice and sadness, the oppression, violence and despair, and push through to the other side. How we can crack open our hearts, steady our voice, and brace our legs to stand up, to reach out, and to reach in.
Happy first day of school, everyone. Go get 'em.
By Laura Moore
At first, we couldn't figure out what he was doing.
Each time we'd put him down, he'd flip onto his stomach regardless of how difficult it was to turn, which toys were in the way, or how impractical such an act might be in those precious seconds between diapers. And steadying himself on the outer-most part of his belly, he'd quickly locate his center of balance, lift his legs, and spread his arms.
"Are you swimming?" I would ask in ernest, trying my best to hop inside his six-month old brain and view the world through his eyes. Being the chatter he is, of course, he'd answer with a series of haas, ahhhs and baahs and a few high pitched yells for good measure.
"Ohhh, you're going to love swim lessons," I'd say to him in a friendly, high pitched voice. He'd smile his trademark smile in response--the one that turns my heart to melted butter--and then he'd return to his task: wobbling around like a top, his feet either clipping the foam arms of the Safari Gym, or catching the edge of my knee, or spinning around enough to cause him to collide face first into the broadside of our dog.
This continued for a few days, but as I watched him closer, I began to doubt my initial read. His actions didn't really look like swimming anymore; they looked more like floating or scooting. Maybe this is just an early effort to learn how to crawl, I thought to myself. And I let it go.
But later that evening, when my husband came home from work, I watched him pick up our baby boy and send him sailing through the kitchen. Up and down, weaving around in patterns, the little guy canvased the air with his arms outstretched, his legs arched, his mouth agape and his eyes peeled wide. And seeing him like that--seeing him actively engaged in flight--I realized exactly what he was trying to do all of those minutes on the ground: he was trying to fly.
Day in and day out, he keeps trying: working up a sweat, ignoring his other toys, holding up his body like Superman. And despite any obstacle in his way, the entire time he endeavors to lift his body, he maintains unflappable focus: pinching his lips, slanting his eyes, bracing himself for the moment when the earth will inevitably fall beneath him, and he will rise up and sail through the air like a seagull skimming the ridge of the sky. He wills his flight with everything he has in the deepest boughs of his imagination, and I have grown drunk drinking in every possible moment of his beautifully pure determination to make the impossible happen.
He falls asleep with his wings outstretched, he sends them outward the moment he wakes up, and I have no doubt he uses them throughout the entirety of his dreams. Every night when his father comes home and lifts him up, he emanates a sort of joy I have never before seen in anyone: squeals fill the room, drool pools on the floor and his eyeballs push through the slits in his face.
"One, two," my husband begins, and our little guy spreads his arms. His entire body rises with a nearly transcendental jolt of anticipation, and his unwavering faith is virtually palpable, a faith that trusts the number three will send him up high, where the air breaks across his face, and tickles his tummy, as he climbs and falls, and climbs and falls through every corridor of our house.
As soon as he comes back down to the floor, he wobbles on his belly again: holding his arms parallel to the ground, lifting his chest with every ounce energy bustling in his body. When that doesn't work, he tries to stretch his neck upward, straightening his arms and turning his eyes to the ceiling. Still grounded, he falls downward again, arching his back, lifting his legs, sending his arms out, this time, at right angles. And when that, too, fails to lift him from the floor, he begins moving his wings up and down just enough to spin into a spiraling whirl. This goes on and on until one of us picks him up and rockets him through the air.
It never gets old, and he never stops believing.
Each time I watch him, I yearn to capture his joy. I wish I could tap into his vivid imagination. I wish I could siphon out just a small bit of his innocence and pour it into jars, so that when he gets older, and the practical word edges it out of him, we will still have some saved up in the cupboard, we will still be able to make him squeal with delight, to push out the rest of the world so he can revel in the sheer ecstasy of small pleasures.
I wish I had those jars, so even when he realizes he can't lift himself off of the ground--even when he knows it is impossible for his arms to send him flying around the world--he might still have enough innocence to believe in magic, enough innocence to keep trying regardless of how high the sky might seem, enough innocence to know, deep within him, that he does possess the strength to rise.