The rain hit the lawns and turned the first snow into tiny islands of white. It has been a week when the usual chaos of the first snow ensues. We know that it will come each year, but each time is as shocking as the last. The radio blurts out interviews with people relieving themselves of the shock by blaming the chaos of the weather on somebody else: “they should have done this,” “they should have done that,” they say. Yes, but weather is weather and each of us bears some responsibility when it comes.
This Sunday morning the rain is restoring some of the autumn. The fallen leaves have become visible again from under a thin cover of snow and provide a small respite before the inevitable happens and we head full throttle for Christmas. In my garden the roses refuse to give up. I love them for this. There is something extremely freeing about watching a rose bloom in the cold north in late October. As Lucy the dog and I head out for our morning stroll in the rain, the petals grin with the resilience of rebels. Out on the paths a group of Sunday morning backpackers unbelievably sets off for a hike in the forest behind the palace just as the rain intensifies. I catch a glimpse of their faces as I walk past them. They remind me of my roses.
As a parent one watches this age with a lump in one’s throat. The child for whom you were once the center of attention is suddenly looking out into the world and seeking new forms of belonging. Belonging is one of those primal instincts that drives our behavior. It is like food or the instinct to reproduce ourselves; we seek it irrespective of logic, and sometimes to our detriment. Yesterday’s radio program about a man who as a child was drawn into a criminal gang because the other options for belonging (family, school) were so weak that they didn’t offer an appealing option, struck me hard in this respect. The thing that eventually saved this young rebel, who landed himself in juvenile care on several occasions, was a coach in a football team who was not afraid of putting his arms around this young man and making him feel a part of something more appealing than a criminal gang.
Perhaps I am not thinking so much of my own children when I hear this story, as of some of the children I have met through my various children’s projects over the years. In every group are at least two children out of ten who are viewed as having special challenges. These can range from learning disabilities to aggression. Many of these kids feel that they are not a part of the group and will never be (therefore they must seek other groups outside of school). I’ve noticed that when these children are given the opportunity to learn in a way that allows them to express themselves and feel that they are heard by others, they tend not only to participate but also to shine with the consequence that the whole group is lifted. This is not the way that learning generally happens in our schools which are still primarily governed by the idea that children should learn quietly at their desks by having information passed down to them.
One of the greatest challenges that our modern societies face is how to include these children who otherwise may go on to pursue their need for belonging in ways that become problematic for them and for the whole society. My own feeling is that opening up as many opportunities as we can to include them at schools – not as special needs but as a part of the group – will take us a long way. Perhaps the reason that my roses are blooming despite all at the end of October is because I actually see them.