Great good fortune* - these words define the essence of my feelings about my work at Macomber Center and specifically about my luck in sharing this space with Ben and Mark, James and Dan, and most recently, Amy – the amazing colleagues I interact with on a daily basis; the people to whom Macomber Center owes its current vibrant, life-affirming state of existence. Each of these people brings a unique perspective and set of talents to our community, all of which contribute to the rich soup into which the kids plunge from the moment they walk (or burst) through the front door in the morning.
Ben and James are always here when the day begins – ready to engage the first-comers in conversation about what has happened in their lives since they were last here, regardless of when that might have been. This usually comes on the heels of our three-way early morning conversations about the state of the Center, what our individual goals/dreams/expectations might be, how they might become reality, or become part of our discarded that-wouldn’t-work pile of ideas. These conversations, taking place before our official day begins, are the first example of my great good fortune in being where I am and doing what I do – we are all passionate about our work, all bring different life experiences and beliefs to the table, and each holds the shared vision of our Center community in our own centers. Articulating this vision, even when talking of perhaps mundane, daily happenings rather than the more theoretical future we imagine ahead, is a valuable, affirming way to start the day
James and Ben check in on how things are with the first-comers, and often with a parent or two. What fresh ideas or already-made plans are ahead for the new day? Suggestions are made, ideas traded back and forth, and the day begins. Watching how these two people engage with the kids is the next extraordinary hit for me – the attitude of my colleagues is one of respect, interest, genuine desire to hear what a child has to communicate – a jumping-off point for the day ahead. Perhaps plans to start an event, or finish a project or organize a game will be set in motion; perhaps a trip outside, regardless of the weather, to fill the bird feeder will start the day for a kid, engendering inquiries about why the feeder is emptied so quickly and what kinds of birds are around today. James is a wealth of information about all local birds, their songs, their eating habits, their arrivals and departures from our part of the world. Back inside, James will either engage in Latin teaching or a biochemistry class or a discussion of astronomy or a game on the floor with Legos or building blocks or a round of anagram playing, then back outside for a game of four square depending on the make-up of the early morning gang, equally enthusiastically engaged in any one of these activities.
Ben, more often than not with coffee in hand, displays such a constant openness to any idea or suggestion that comes his way from the kids (or the adults!) – a non-judgmental, genuinely interested, let’s-explore-this attitude which never cuts a person off from any potential path that might be explored. We have been working together at the Center since the day the doors first opened on September 10th, four years ago. Ben brings his skills in and love of music and art, his sense of play, and sense of humor to the Center, and shares each of these with the kids and his co-workers. Watching Ben deeply engaged in creating a painting in turn leads kids to experiment with paintings of their own, after many questions of the what-are-you-doing variety, always answered seriously and as fully as the asker might desire. Ben devotes time to actively thinking about Macomber Center, and where we might be heading in the future, both philosophically and practically. This thought process is made visible in writings of various kinds, and in conversations with other people engaged in similar pursuits in the larger self-directed learning community, and most importantly, in ongoing conversations with us, his colleagues, about these issues and ideas.
Dan and Mark arrive on our scene an hour later, a busier scene than the first hour - greetings are exchanged, kids and adults checking in with each other to see what has gone on since last contact, to see what might be on tap for the day ahead. Both these men are accomplished, amazing musicians, each possessing quite different musical skill sets, but able to mesh with enormous professionalism and talent. Our Center kids are so fortunate to have this talent open and available to them on a daily basis, and so many of them take advantage of it; music is in the air for long stretches of every day, to my delight – another great good fortune for me!
To my eyes, Dan engages with kids and adults in a totally present and open way that is unique to him. His ability to involve himself with a child in a deeply listening way results in conversations happening which would not have taken place otherwise; talents and interests revealed which might have remained hidden for a while longer emerge and are encouraged to blossom.
Mark and Dan often play music together – all sorts and conditions of music, often bringing in many other players and singers, kids and adults alike, drawn to the magic of awesome sounds coming from the music room. All musical genres are explored – any variation of a song or instrumental piece is grist for the musical mill – anyone playing anything is free to join the harmony of the experience – a joyful noise indeed!
Mark, along with his vast musical skills, has a talent for movie-creating and has engaged in this activity with all ages at the Center, developing suggestions from the actors for scripts, themes and dialogues, and then shooting the results and editing them into wonderful films, which are watched over and over again by the Center kids. The repeat viewings are a phenomenon that I love to witness – the faces of the watchers reveal so much – pride in their acting ability, excitement over being in a movie, intrigue in viewing the plot as a whole, instead of as individual shot-out-of-sequence scenes.
Amy joined our staff this September, after volunteering at the Center in the spring of last year, along with sharing her delightful very young daughters with our community on more than one occasion – lovely happenings that highlighted the huge pleasure so many kids take in babies and very young children. Some of my favorite Center photos involve interactions between our kids and visiting babies and toddlers – there is such uncomplicated purity in the connection between them – such a joy to witness, and always, always visible. Amy’s deep artistic talent results in kids trying projects none of us had thought about before this, or even imagined! It is lovely to watch the seriousness of creativity happening in a new medium – block prints, ink, sun prints, paint of all types, combinations of colors and textures not tried before, geometric forms and free-forms, all being played with, bringing imagination into concrete visibility. It is my great good fortune to have the female energy of Amy in our midst – a truly important and enormously beneficial addition to my work world.
Great good fortune – my hope is that you too are able to experience your workdays filled with such grace and fullness as these words imply.
* Words used by Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. ( Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1902 to 1932) in his Memorial Day speech of 1884 - It is “our great good fortune…to learn…that life is a profound and passionate thing”