The Irvine Tartan • My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican
Paul wrote, “Love each other as brothers and sisters
and honor others more than you do yourself.” Romans 12:10
Life’s lessons begin in the fall. For me, the fall has been a wonderful beginning, year after year, painted on a large canvas. The fall invites us to participate in a familiar pattern that is reinforced in each ensuing year.
Fall speaks with a voice of long shadows and chilly nights, of wind-swept leaves and hoar frost – harbingers of endings. For me, I have known beginnings. The warm days and crisp, fresh air draws me back down memory’s lane and the hope and anticipation that accompanied every autumn.
School layered memories for me. The Michaelmas daises of September and the chill air demanding a sweater highlighted the fresh opportunity that met me – and you, dear reader – at the threshold of classrooms throughout the days of youth. For myself, I walked along Bayside Drive the three blocks that led me to teachers and classmates and the prospect of new friends that have shaped and molded me over successive years.
Classroom work was all right. I found it a distraction from learning. Others enjoyed it more than I. I was more contemplative than competitive. The carrots held out before me did not inspire. I found them limiting.
For me, the playground held a greater attraction. Not that it was an idle time; recess held no interest. The playground was everything. It was an inviting, creative space and I learned there well. It helped shape me immensely! The playground at my school was well equipped. Banks of swings stood out against the sky. There was a metal slide, polished by the feverish bottoms of youths who prevented its rusting – ever! And there was a bank of teeter-totters. You might know them better as seesaws. I enjoyed that the most. It imprinted much for which I am grateful.
I am saddened to see them disappear.
I have noticed that playgrounds have been redesigned in schoolyards over the past decade or two. Playground equipment design has become more independent, more competitive. Magnificent architectural designs invite children to climb, swing, crawl and jump. That’s all they get to do. They get to climb, swing, crawl and jump. If there are fifty children in the schoolyard they each get to climb, swing, crawl or jump: altogether but not together. A child wandering by the schoolyard after hours sees nothing changed: alone, the youth climbs, swings, crawls and jumps as always. That is all that can be done. Imagination can be ignited but there is no need of another for the unit to be fully functional. Function is independent and whether there is fifty or one, the apparatus makes its mark.
The absence of the teeter-totter has changed the dynamic of the playground. Its absence has touched many aspects of our lives and we are less for it. Don’t misunderstand! I am not advocating teeter-totters be installed in the workplace, in community common areas or even the church. I am simply saying that their absence in our formative years has limited how we relate today. Because of all of the playground equipment, the once ubiquitous teeter-totter was essentially a means of building relationships.
For me, I’d say that the teeter-totter is a relic of our church.
I’d get on the swings, don’t get me wrong. But they only went backwards and forwards. I might jump from a height to land, but that was rare. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth – I overcame my fear of heights and learned to yawn. Some might be in adjacent swings, but their activity was independent of mine. I might stop swinging. But the others could continue. I’d use the slides as well. There were often two slides, one larger than the other. The larger slide encouraged maturation – bloodied, we’d mount the ladder and gasping a breath in the heights, head down. But once done, it was always and only an opportunity to head down. Never with another. Another might even be in the way if they didn’t remove their collapsed little body in time at the base of the shoot.
The teeter-totter provided playground dialectic. Not that we knew as much. The apparatus demanded another and urged eager participants to develop negotiation skills. The teeter-totter provided a breadth that demanded – and allowed – oppositional counter-weight. It allowed us to see the value of balance required in life. The teeter-totter was unlike a pendulum – there was no place for a pendulum in a playground. This was no carnival mid-way! It was a place of learning! I couldn’t content myself with standing the other in the heights while my corpulence remained anchored on the ground. There was fun only when there was a reciprocal give and take in the transaction. Opposition in view and force was welcomed – no, demanded – for both to benefit!
Paul had a word for this. He admonished the church in Rome, telling them to “Love each other as brothers and sisters and honour others more than you do yourself.” Just possibly he had played on a teeter-totter in Tarsus when he was enjoying recess at his yeshiva. He would be reflecting on Torah as juvenile glee mounted the seat. I can imagine Gamaliel looking through the classroom door to the area where the boys played, witnessing the conception of a model of behaviour: where my joy in increased as I honour you.
The fulcrum of our relic is Jesus himself. While I and the other face each other, we both face Jesus and depending on our weight and leverage, one might be closer to Jesus than the other.
From opposite ends we discover a breadth of understanding that enriches both participants. The loss of one participant impoverishes both. We are not isolated or independent in our debate and search in this model.
Today’s church has lost the sense of balance and breadth that I came to cherish in my youth. We have drifted away to more independent and isolating models of community fragmentation. We choose to leave at will and are unrelenting in our self-righteousness. We are still imaginative. And each under their own will climbs, swings, crawls and jumps. But we’re willing to go it alone.
The pattern of the yeshiva allows for God to be instrumental in our learning. The pivotal point is Torah, the word of God. I see the pivotal point as Jesus – the Word of God: a dialectical model of redemption and salvation.
Copyright © 2003 James T. Irvine