We live in a very risk adverse culture. Safe schools, safe fun, safe kids, safe world. Because if we are careful enough, no one will get hurt. Ever. We make allowances for risk only under the category: calculated risk.
But safety isn’t enough. We need love. And love is the fly in the ointment. Because love is a calculated risk only if you calculate that all your expectations are guesses unobligated to attach themselves to a single one of your calculations.
I organized a work day recently, which among other things involved some crews with trucks going around to pick up donated furniture and household items. I came home exhausted to messages of further donations, which I declined. The little old lady after church was a different story. My message that no further donations were needed was not welcome news. I felt the same about her insistence that I come retrieve a fiftieth set of dishes for our cause. I countered. She countered. Her dishes will probably be passed on to some other charity, but not before they land in my car. I went home feeling the impossibility of defending myself from old ladies who had set their minds to something.
That afternoon I dreamed of great lengths of silence. Perhaps the sound of wind or birds. Instead I heard the sound of children fighting. About the phone book of all things. One had the idea to count the number of Smiths. This set off the counting of several different names, disagreements about accurate tallies, and believe it or not, pushing and pulling over whose turn it was to hold the phone book.
I wasn’t at home tired from doing the wrong thing. I was at home tired from trying to do the right thing. But when you want to swear even at the memory of the wrinkled lady in the jaunty hat, it doesn’t feel that nice inside yourself. Love. Messy. Overwhelming. Uncalculated.
I feel incapable, inadequate, unequal to the tasks I see before me. I feel, I said to a friend, like Moses with a stutter being asked to speak. Like I’m sitting in a hall of dreams I believe in, not sure if I even know how to stand up.
Maybe it was Moses who had a word with me after that. At least a fuller version of his story came to me. Moses didn’t feel adequate for the task ahead. But it was his arm asked to hold the stick that parted the Red Sea. Adequacy is not a prerequisite for giving what we have. Love asks us, the inadequate (and we who are risk adverse) to gamble on the chance that what we have to offer can be used. To pay the cost without knowing if our gifts will be accepted. To trust in our smallest moments. In our caught by surprise, brimming over with fear and tears moments. To believe, in the midst of messy, overwhelming and unexpected, that love is big enough for all of it.
My idea of what a robot should look like.
I was obligated to attend a Lego Robotics tournament all day on Saturday. I confess my viewing of the practice runs for the teams of Boy two and Girl one left me less than enthusiastic. Someone had to explain to me when the Lego robot finished maneuvering whether things went well or not. Since I didn’t get it, I assumed the kids didn’t either.
My fantasies for freezing rain or a last minute illness didn’t materialize, but the kids’ excitement was catching. By the time we got there, it seemed like a nice day. Their eagerness (and my plans to leave them and only watch for the afternoon) had unScrooged me.
To my surprise, the afternoon I thought would be long, proceeded to unfold as a series of revelations to my traditionally low tech self.
Revelation #1: The place was teaming with grade 4 – 8 kids (including mine) who understood most of what was happening.
Revelation #2: The pedigree of judges and referees giving their time to the event was nothing to sneeze at. People with all kinds of engineering degrees, employed in some of the most prestigious companies in Canada, were there convinced that my kids (and a few others) were the future of Canada’s ability to innovate.
Revelation #3: Nobody there was interested in grooming cookie cutter kids. (One of my biggest frustrations with education today is that inadvertently or not, much of it is designed to spit out kids who don’t think, risk or try new things.) First Lego League (not something I was previously familiar with) is out to reward risk taking, innovation, teamwork . . .
Here’s the list of the core values that teams were marked and rewarded for understanding and exemplifying:
*We are a team.
*We do the work to find solutions with guidance from our coaches and mentors.
*We know our coaches and mentors don’t have all the answers; we learn together.
*We honor the spirit of friendly competition.
*What we discover is more important than what we win.
*We share our experiences with others.
*We display Gracious Professionalism® and Coopertition® in everything we do.
*We have FUN!
(For more on First Lego League, see http://www.firstlegoleague.org/mission/corevalues#sthash.Z7mZlLR4.dpuf)
Revelation # 4: Waiting for the judging results, they cranked up the music and invited the kids to dance. Seventy five or so geeky kids spontaneously dancing (or forming trains with kids they don’t know) to Cotton Eyed Joe and YMCA is a pretty refreshing thing to watch.
Revelation #5: The world is a big place. Some really good things are happening. I stopped short of a one man standing ovation when one of the extremely accomplished speakers commiserated with the kids about failing, starting over, and not understanding why something wasn’t working. How great is that? When a successful adult talks shop with ten year old’s like they’re colleagues in the big world of innovation and design? When someone teaches by example that failed attempts are merely steps on the road to discovery?