I have this story about myself about how, since I don’t practice “real” meditation, I not allowed to claim that I do the mindfulness thing.

(As if there’s this omniscient, unseen Mindfulness Proctor who watches and evaluates us, right?)

That story’s false, and it has been since at least sixteen years ago.

An ordinary work day. Until it wasn’t.

I didn’t freak out, even though freaking out was my go-to response to just about everything those days.

I paid attention. Was present. In the present. No judgment, not because I was some kind of zen master, but because it took so long to make sense of the words coming through the school’s P.A. system.

Planes? World Trade Center? The Pentagon? What?

So I kept noticing, so present and nonjudgmental that I didn’t even roll my eyes, let alone argue, when the woman beside me in the windowless work room insisted it was an accident. I may have said, “maybe one, but two, I don’t think so,” as headed to find a television.

One of a few dozen adults in the midst of several hundred 10- through 14-year-olds, a couple dozen of whom were due in my classroom within minutes, I knew I had to do two things: get good information and keep it together.

I arrived in the library in time to see the first tower fall. Quiet gasps. Tears. Intense focus. My music department colleague whispering, “my kid’s 18. I want him in college next year, not get drafted.”

My seventh graders arrived, the most, uh, challenging, class I had that year, curious but subdued.

I opened with something like: here’s what we know; we’re not going to speculate on what we don’t know; we’re safe here and now, the administrators are monitoring what’s happening, and they’ll let us know what we need to do to stay that way.

One girl shared that he dad was in Chicago, in the (then) Sears Tower, but she’d learned he was safe. Another boy’s dad was working at home that day instead of in his office. In Manhattan.

We soon got down to the business at hand, which, if I remember correctly, had something to do with composing and performing musical compositions based on the rhythm of their favorite foods.

Quite the contrast to what was steaming on the then-off TVs throughout the building.

That afternoon, seventh and eight grade classes began with a debrief, while fifth and sixth graders and their teachers went about business as usual – exactly what my students clearly wanted and needed.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but there was some damn fine mindfulness going on in that school that day.

And some damn fine coaching and what I now think of as positive navigation.

Pay attention.

On purpose.

Be in the present moment.

Without judgment.

Acknowledge feelings.

Ask for what you need.

Support others, especially by listening and acknowledging their feelings.

Then get back to doing your work in the world, because you, at your best, doing the work of your true calling, is exactly what we need to heal, to grow kindness, and to create a world where no middle school kids – or any of us – have to hear an announcement like the one I heard over that P.A. system ever again.


image: Pixabay, used with permission

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