Sometimes intuition is the best guide
Should I intervene, or should I let it be and see where it goes? This common question is made tougher by the fact that I was watching a small eight-year-old boy crying. There is always a reason and a purpose to children crying. Maybe though, just maybe I can wait and see if he stops of his own accord and has the inner resolve to move beyond his tears. But how inhumane is that? Of course, you should intervene, find out what’s happening, and help the poor, suffering little soul. But I need to get the work done. But he needs something. Meanwhile while this dialogue is running its script in my head, he is performing. His tears are not stopping him from doing the routine, and singing, and dancing while performing.
When the group finished the song and dance number and I had everyone sit down to give them some notes, this young boy began wiping his nose and eyes and calming himself down. I noticed his classmate right next to him had seen that he was crying and was looking at him. But this young boy was calmed by now and did not even react to his classmate looking at him.
After notes, when we moved on and did another routine, my young student began to cry once more. Yet, he kept charging forward in a seemingly determined way to not allow the others to be distracted by his crying. Or perhaps he was embarrassed and didn’t want them to notice his tears. In reality I think it involved both of those things. Life is hardly easy and usually has complexity, especially in the struggles. In any case he kept performing through his tears. He also dried them each time we stopped while he was taking my notes with the group.
By this time the questions in my head ceased. I knew he was okay and was in charge of himself, despite his suffering. I kept my eye on him. And he kept repeating this pattern for the entire hour that was left of rehearsal. My assistants saw that he was crying, and I think they were surprised I did not show empathy and try to help him. I think their hearts broke for him as much as mine did. But as the hour went by, I felt intuitively that I needn’t intervene. Sometimes we intervene, and it robs the child of an opportunity. Of course, that could backfire as a working principle and philosophy and the consequences would not be productive and may even make things worse. Any parent, teacher or care giver of children understands this dilemma. Parenting and overseeing children are not cut and dry, black and white situations where one size fits all. We take risks with all our choices and actions. Yet I have learned that when I trust my intuition and follow it, the results are usually favorable.
We finished rehearsal, I called them into a clump as usual and we had our send off mantra and all slapped high-fives. I made a point to finish by going to this young student. He looked at me sheepishly when I gave him skin (high-five). I got down to his level, face to face, and said “I am very proud of you for the way you handled yourself today”. He was a bit surprised and I could see the relief roll through his body. “I know you were upset today but you continued to work, and that was very professional and mature. That’s what we do as performers, we keep working. I’m sorry you were upset, and I am very proud of the way you handled it”. He seemed himself again. “What were you upset about”, I asked. “I missed my mom” he said with tears forming in his eyes. I took his hands and said, “I know how that feels, I used to feel exactly like that. But the good thing is you kept going even though you missed her. And now you can go and see her. But you learned that you can get through it when you miss your mom and wait until you can see her again. That was great. Go see your mom, good work, see you next week”.
I learned much from this boy and the experience of witnessing him seize control of himself when he was desperate to a degree. I am ever in awe of the resilience and fortitude of children when left to their own volition. We have a cultural bent, it seems to me, to think of children as needing intervention and direction from the stronger, wiser, more realistic adults. In the process of leaning to heavily on this idea we have lost the other side of the coin.
Children of course need adults to help them through their difficult lives; life is rarely easy. Yet I would venture to say that life is often times easier for children, who are more in touch with nature and innocence. It is adults that need intervention more often, as is clear in the huge industry of psychiatry and therapeutic interventions adults seek, as well as the huge market for self-help books, videos, opioids, and other pharmaceutical drugs. At times when adults are intending to help children it is the blind leading the blind. In fact, contrary to this whole contemporary notion, adults can learn volumes from the children in their lives if only we adjust their attitudes, stances, and actions, and allow the children to be the natural teachers they are.
By taking the risk and leaving my young student alone, yet ever vigilant in case he was in danger and truly needed my help, I was able to learn about his inclinations to expand and gain control of himself in a painful circumstance. This journey he took was a human journey, ubiquitous in our growing up, and universal in its application to life, not just to humans even, but nature herself. Plants and animals are constantly working through tough situations and overcoming them. Our darling black kitty overcame a broken femur by continuing to walk, nurse his leg, get love from his sister, and eventually get back to running, albeit without the surgical intervention that the expert doctor declared was necessary. The doctor lost the opportunity to learn from our kitty. We did not.
When I watch a flower in my back yard sprout up and grow in the slimmest of cracks in the patio cement, I am reminded of the power of life to grow up. In this instance, life only need a tiny crack to sprout, all the while expansively rooting itself underneath the cement and exploding into a gorgeous flower towering over the cement. Left alone, nature wants to grow, live, and expand, becoming more complex and better able. When we look at children in this light, we are gifted with tremendous learning experiences. If we are lucky, we get transported back to our won childhoods and reflect on the magic of those days spent in the mystery.