Sometimes in a rare bit of serendipity the scripture readings for the day coincide with the seasonal events in the larger culture. Such was the case for the happy occurrence of the gospel: “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Mt. 19:13-15). That message of welcoming the child (Jesus actually takes them in his arms) clearly echoed as some excellent schools reopened.
The atmosphere was festive as a long line of littles, parents, grandparents, sometimes whole clans converged on the local elementary school. Arches of balloons marked the gates, with large “Welcome” signs for the students. For the first time in three years after lockdown, parents were allowed back on campus to drop off their kids, and what a swirl of energy that created. The school had even arranged spots for photo ops, thus a record of “First Day Kindergarten, Third Grade, etc.”
Many different ethnicities and backgrounds were reflected in that crowd, but most had the same high expectations. So far, no child had goofed up; everyone more or less began on a level playing field; the future was bright with potential. I overheard in broken English the plea: “Make a new friend!” In a school such as this, children come from a broad variety of homes where 17 languages are spoken, but all will emerge amazingly fluent in English.
My granddaughter had carefully selected her Ensemble for the first day of second grade: sparkly lavender top with frothy ballerina skirt, leopard print vest, blingy jewelry. The designer wardrobe paid tribute to the solemnity of the event. Quickly she was drawn into “hellos” to her friends and new teacher (whom she loves), a hug and goodbye to me.
Walking home, I wondered. Was I ever welcomed back to school? My memory is primarily of drudgery and discipline. It was the era of memorizing the Baltimore Catechism, marching in regimented lines like Marines, keeping silence for long stretches, sitting rigidly in desks for inordinate stretches of time. I’ve often pondered: I hated school and I was good at it. What torture must it have been for classmates less academically inclined? But enough has been written about that subtle, polite form of child abuse. Indeed, many schools were worse. How much creativity, indeed the “freedom of God’s children” was squelched by that militaristic system?
Perhaps the better question for those of us who survived is whether we can welcome our inner child as Jesus did. Under all the accretions of adulthood, she’s still there: playful, vulnerable, often perplexed or frightened. Children can live with the abundant evidence of their screw-ups: a chain of broken objects precious to their parents, lost items (3 sweatshirts in a week?), saying the wrong thing loudly, crashing into people, usually unintentionally, and sometimes hurting them. But at the same time, they know they’re forgiven and loved, in spite of mistakes and sometimes even more. Adults have a harder time accepting that.
But no matter how wounded we’ve been or how many serious flaws we have, still the invitation is open; we’re welcomed into that cosmic hug; those hands rest upon us.