In Mumbai last week, I wandered down a road to the railway station market – a fascinating place of industry and endeavor, particularly by women – and happened to glimpse this wonderful, strong girl, racing down an alley-way, hair flying. She was unencumbered by purse or book-bag and I stood at my end of the alley and watched her take flight with a kind of wonder and envy for the speed, for the joy, for the abandon. The hair! The upturned chappal! The lovely swing of hips and angle of elbows! The strength and the power!
I stood and watched her go. And I thought about longing.
Where was she off to with such focus, such determination? Was she late for something? Or just plain eager? Was there a boy waiting for her? A class? Her mother?
Who knows? Who can say?
This weekend I attended a conference on education in Mumbai called InspirED. It brought together a collection of dedicated and gifted thinkers on education and it was a privilege to be among so many wonderful people.
But more than the “experts,” I was drawn to the teachers – those people out in the trenches, trying to make each day count, trying to create magic and meaning in the lives of their young students.
And more than THAT, I was drawn to the students themselves – those dazzling young prophets who are growing up on our watch and whose questions and longings leave us groping for answers and direction.
This boy, for instance, who wanted to know why it was so important for him to speak English, when he dreams in Hindi and tells jokes in Hindi and sings songs in Hindi and whose parents speak ONLY Hindi and for whom all his ambitions have meaning and drive and without whom his life has no centre and to whom I could only say YES and yes and yes, you are absolutely right.
See the tilt of his head and the graceful arc of his hand and the tie (- that symbol of slavery) and tell me what else could I have said to him? He was right.
Unfortunately, it is one thing to be right and quite another to be heard. And longing – for possibility, for freedom, for the joy of a soul in flight – may be like sign language: eloquent, beautiful, elegiac; yet missed by millions through ignorance and limitation.
We have a long, long way to go. The dreams and aspirations of our children – our amazing, passionate, enchanting children – continue to be squashed into boxes and pummeled into submission. I think of the girl in the alley and the boy who dreams in Hindi and I wonder at our stupidity and our lack of awareness. Our children stand before us. They are waiting for us to wave them on, to recognize their power and their glory.
But they will not wait forever. They are our future. Their time is now. Bless them.