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freedom of the blank page

I’ve filled up dozens of journals over the past twenty-ish years, and in the first entry of each one I’m inclined to write how lovely it feels to hold a book of blank pages in my hands. I like to wonder who I’ll be by the time I fill it up with words. No, that’s not quite right. I love the fact that I can’t know who I’ll be by the time I fill it up; I love wallowing in the utter futility of wondering.

I’m an organizer by nature. When I was a kid, I’d borrow my brothers’ Hot Wheels and arrange them on the floor by color, size, and shape. I’d create rainbows of cars, grids of cars, elaborate spiral patterns of cars. Similarly, I’d put on musicals with my stuffed animals, lining them up in rows for the big numbers. When I was 17 and started directing a children’s performance group, I loved planning out rehearsals, typing up handouts (with clip-art!) for parents, and highlighting kids’ names on their scripts. To this day, reorganizing a cabinet stokes my endorphins to a point of preternatural calm.

But the gift of organization has its downsides. Somewhere between labeling chorus folders and mapping out a calendar of concerts, I often fall into the fallacy of thinking I’m in control of my choir. Somewhere between uploading a digital photo album and purging my pantry, I often dream I’m determining my fate.

This school year I’ve been given an excellent, ego-confounding gift. As of July first, Stoneridge Montessori merged with Harborlight Montessori, and the music program I’ve built for the past four years has fallen to pieces like a kid’s Lego tower. I won’t lie to you; when I saw this coming, I ran the gamut of childlike responses: I wanted to shield my beautiful creation, to whine and wail at the big bully of Reality, to pack up my toys and go elsewhere.

But eventually I tossed those inclinations aside and began examining the situation for its merits and possibilities. No surprise – this state of mind has served me well. It has also given me the least organized back-to-school experience of my 14-year teaching life. Since I can’t imagine what my choir will sound like (I haven’t heard half its voices), I haven’t ordered repertoire yet. Our first rehearsal on Friday was more of a conversation than anything else.

And you know what? I loved it. With my mind uncluttered by goals and expectations, I could really pay attention to the people before me. I not only gave them the opportunity to speak; I felt free enough to deeply listen. I am learning in my teaching life what I’ve known for a long time in my journaling life. The best kinds of growth cannot be planned out. In fact, sometimes my organization inhibits my ability to cherish reality.

So here’s to the mystery of the year ahead. Here’s to blank pages and unknown obstacles; here’s to new voices and to the voices I think I already know. May I avoid the presumption of over-planning without falling into complacency. And may I remember that my efforts to control my circumstances are like the games I played as a child: beautiful, laughable, and fleeting.

Now let’s see what I can make of these Lego pieces.

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