Weeks 2 and 3: Can I Touch Your Hair?

Hi friends, It’s been quite a full couple of weeks. 

A little bit more than halfway through the summer, I have plenty to catch you up on! My days with groups have been filled with jumping rope, meals in Patterson Park, bilingual worship, aerial silks practice with our friends at Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church, cornhole, math games, water splashing… But, before I get too carried away, I think that sharing every dynamic, kinetic detail of my time spent with visiting groups and our partners thus far would be…

  1. A long blog

  2. Maybe a bit tiring to read. 

So, as I find myself reflecting on where the summer has taken me so far with our visiting groups from Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC, Oak Hill Presbyterian Church from St. Louis, MO and First Pres. in Allentown Pennsylvania, I find myself reflecting upon both how we’ve moved together and how we’ve joined in stillness together. I believe that both our shared motion and our shared stillness these past couple of weeks have connected us to one another in their commonness, seems silly but what more can we do together but move and be still? 

Any given day with a visiting group is dense with buzzing, animate energy. Sometimes this feels like palpable nervousness. After all, members from visiting groups are in a new city, meeting new friends and members from our partner communities are introducing themselves to strangers and sharing their neighborhoods. Sometimes the kinetic energy looks like attempts to hula-hoop with ten hula-hoops at once, “I know I can do it! Just watch.” There have been walks toward the park, arms full of chalk and cornhole boards. Sometimes we move our bodies together as we sing our Soaring Eagles Learning Camp morning song and practice our American Sign Language. Sometimes we shake our tambourines and tap our feet to songs that are new to us, sung in a language we’re leaning to a beat we don’t all know quite yet. There are running hugs, foot races, and even moving through the hallways of Eutaw Marshburn as we model the planet’s orbit in our Hands On Science station at Learning Camp. 

I think kinetic energy of this sort makes it easy for me to see the Sacred. Surely She is present in  our visible and physical movement toward one another, through the park and toward the playground, between knee-high cafeteria lunch tables for one last hug before we say ‘Goodbye for now’. I’m reminded of some of my favorite lyrics by a musician I adore. 

In Map on a Wall Lucy Dacus writes:

“I've walked on two legs since I was a child,

but when did I realize that some ways out,

past the horizon for thousands of miles

there are people like me, walking on legs like mine?

Coming closer and farther away.

Coming to me and from my embrace.”

I know our visiting groups and my Baltimore neighbors have moved toward one another in our dancing, clapping, and tambourine shaking. And, in so doing, have moved beyond barriers that might have otherwise kept them apart. Past our geographic horizons, some groups traveling hundreds of miles. Beyond class and age differences, rejoicing in ice pops knows no age! 

Deriving part of their value from their rarity, are the slower, quieter moments of connection that contain a stillness. These moments, even more than the louder, hectic ones, have made me a proud group leader and reminded me that curiosity can be a brave act. 

At the Soaring Eagles Learning Camp one of the learning stations my group, the fourth and fifth graders visited daily was The Book Nook. The Book Nook was the only space in the school that had access to air conditioning. The lights were always turned off and we all spoke to one another in inside voices. Every day Book Nook leaders read us a couple of books. My favorite one was called “Don’t Touch My Hair!,” which was about how important it is to ask permission before touching each other’s hair when we’re curious about it.  But, before we heard these stories we took a moment to notice our breath and to practice our centering mantras. To practice our mantras we closed our eyes and sat up straight, counting on our fingers, word by word, something we needed to hear ourselves repeat. Ms. Bonnie from the Book Nook gave us a couple examples “I, Am, Smart. I, Am, Strong. I, Am, Safe.” We were then encouraged to practice our own mantras for a minute. One day, after the allotted time to practice our mantras was long over, I noticed one of my students continuing to practice his as the book reading went on. I was immediately proud of him for taking his still-self seriously.

I found myself so eager to know what he needed to hear said over, over, and over again..

One of my favorite days of this summer (so far) was bussing up to Woodberry Crossing with our Soaring Eagles campers to enjoy a day in the expansive outdoors. As we ran outside, held bunnies, and splashed in the river, much of the day was a sweaty blur. Still, two moments of stillness stick with me. The bus ride up to Woodberry Crossing from Baltimore City was a loud one. We were all excited and wondering ‘how long is this gonna take?!’ Partway through the bus ride I decided to let my hair down and enjoy the breeze. After a few moments of fascination at my fluffy curls, one of the students I was sitting by and had gotten to know that week began asking me questions about my hair, one of them being “may I touch it?” I asked if I could touch her braids and we spoke for a while about how we loved each other’s hair and thought it was beautiful. 

The bus ride back from Woodberry Crossing was, as you might imagine, not so loud. In fact, it was nearly silent. The day had been so packed that many kids and youth leaders fell asleep. In the cutest of cases, on each other’s shoulders. Enjoying the quiet and taking note of who’d fallen asleep, I caught one of my visiting group youth leaders digging into his backpack. Out he pulled a towel that he folded into a makeshift pillow and gently slid under a very sleepy camper’s head. Such a gentle, sweet moment made me proud of the youth leader and happy that his friend felt comfortable enough to rest on his shoulder. 

I’m eager to see where our shared chaos and stillness brings us the rest of the summer. 

Until next blog, 

Liv