We have often heard the maxim, “Out of the mouth of babes …,” predicting and anticipating some mysterious or hidden wisdom, delightfully insightful if not amusing, producing a grin or chuckle among the older and wiser. In the joy is assumed and absorbed surprise. But why are we surprised? The young and innocent have always, regularly and poignantly, offered up kernels of insight adults are often too busy, preoccupied or distracted to see. Innocence breeds unmitigated wisdom. Experience often breeds cloudy confusion.
Recent confusion, chaos and fear are byproducts of adult blindness, deafness and failure, as well as a bountiful degree of Mother Nature exercising her influence on our challenged planet. On each side of life’s wondrous journey, elderly senior citizens and young schoolchildren are paying the heaviest price, including but not limited to serious and prolonged isolation.
We have heard from the experts. They are amplified 24/7 throughout the news cycle – from cable TV and radio to every imaginable online platform. Politicians, physicians, epidemiologists and psychologists fill the airwaves. Shuttered are the lonely, marginalized and scared, the separated, removed and alienated. It would be good to hear more from those bookending the experience of life. Thus, we introduce Lucy, grade 4, age 9.
In an economy of words, Lucy reveals more than meets the eye. In the genius of the best of creative writers, the master poets and lyricists among us, she crystalizes her message. Consider the ancient articulation of haiku poetry. Traditionally, in 17 syllables the message is fashioned, shaped and delivered. Permit me to exercise my adult “extrapolation” of Lucy’s creative writing. Here, I am already using a five-syllable word for my explanation of what comes next in Lucy’s impressive economy.
Firstly, Lucy is hardly cute or cavalier in the title: Coronavirus. She immediately and unambiguously gets to the subject. Clarity among the chaos is most welcomed. Thank you, Lucy. We know where you are taking us.
In her first line she provides specific context, declaring what is “not cool.” School climates, socially, and the mounting immaturity across the communication channels of our society (reality TV anyone?), are often divided into the camps of cool and not cool. The magnified events of our lives, however consuming and disturbing, from celebrity-driven news to violent conflicts, draw on our collective gravitation toward the exciting and dramatic. Lucy drives a flag deep into the soil during the social tornado of our time. She flags the virus for what it is, and it is anything but cool.
The second line reaffirms the importance of school attendance, physically. There was an age when going to school was hardly cool. Lucy in one line reveals advocacy for a physically present education, understanding intuitively online and distant learning, regardless of progressing applications, are sorry substitutes for what has been recently stripped. There is plenty of “coolness” to be found online, but Lucy reminds being on campus is a higher level of belonging.
Her third line reveals her understanding of the new social mandate and its sacrifice. Words such as “have to” and “stay inside” are directives being complied with obedience, but nonetheless stated with a firm reminder to the reader this is being imposed and felt. The yearning to be outside, free, the natural state of any child, is now in harsh suspension. Time is relative. Eight weeks for adults may be an interruption, “a whole two months” for a nine-year-old can be a season without horizon.
In Lucy’s fourth line, “can’t even go out for lunch” implies the most open and free period of the day is halted, the hour in the day that is typically “out” and the one where real interaction between friends transpires. Line three is the mandate, line four is the price.
By lines five and six empathy and understanding of the larger “public” cost are revealed. The choice of “People” is a departure from the “We” in earlier lines. She makes a sharp cut from peers to the whole human condition, and in the adjective “super” she shares the serious comprehension of the moment. This results in full understanding of the social consequences identified in the prior two lines. In haiku this is the critically important “cutting” moment, signaling the separation of tone and direction.
There is no complaint in any of her lines. They are observational, honest and fair. Her education is escalating, from student to teacher. Where she was learning she is now informing and, ultimately, inspiring. She has led the reader to this moment, setting the foundation of her personal experience to this point, essentially putting matters to scale. Classmates not going outside for lunch now takes a noble backseat to “people” being gravely ill. Within line six she directly accepts the justification of the new mandate. This is social mathematics. She has added it up.
Characteristically, compassionately and consistently her thoughts are in the collective. “Coronavirus” is a universal plight, only Lucy’s by authorship. The word “I” is not present anywhere. “We” is employed six times.
The sun begins to shine in the concluding lines of seven and eight. Hope reigns in a sense of time. “Soon” is in the eye of the beholder. Lucy maintains the horizon may soon enough be in sight, and the reward will be to “go out.” The exclamation in the final line unleashes the shuttered drive inside. Again, utilizing “super” as the chosen adjective, “super sick” is now juxtaposed with “super happy.” In the only utilization of full-capital letters she exhales in a final syllable of “SHOUT!” The first response from suppressed expression will hardly be a sophisticated articulation or a cluttered voice seeking room among the noise of experts “extrapolating.” It will be an ear-piercing supersonic exhalation into the airwaves above a playground at lunchtime. Lucy has already predicted her well-earned right and reward. She will be liberating her vocal cords with her friends, voluminous and joyful. It will be in harmony with millions of children around the planet.
For any adults listening, now or on that glorious day, it will be music.
Written by John McKenna, Executive Director, Operation Respect