This past summer, we received an email from Charles Rathbone. Charles had been a colleague of Marget Shewmaker, author of 'Maureen's Family' (an essay published in Outlook Magazine), at the time she had written the essay. Charlie and Margie were both working with the New City School in urban St Louis.
Charles was generous to share this excerpt he had written reflecting on the days when the essay was written:
Margie came running up to me one day with an excited account of what had happened that morning in class. I immediately sensed that this was going to be a really good story and that it was somehow particularly important to her personally, so I abruptly cut her off, sent her home, agreed to take over her clean-up chores (It was midday, and school was out for the youngest group); and I made her promise to write down what had happened while it was still fresh in her mind. Though my rebuff met with initial surprise, I could see in her face how she warmed to the idea (and, besides, I knew she had literary aspirations). Even as we spoke, I could sense her mind drifting toward what detail to record and how to let her story unfold.
Briefly, the sequence was this. Little Maureen, aged five, had been trying to figure out her family constellation –herself, her little brother, parents, two sets of aunts and uncles- and, psychologically, where she fit in. Realizing what was transpiring, Margie had suggested a means by which the child might demonstrate her thinking on this matter of relationships, using chalk and erasers, and such. They worked together on the project for a while, but then it was time to go, so they put the materials aside until the next day when Margie instead brought in a bowl of interesting stones, a few small pieces of wood and a board to glue them onto. The girl chose carefully – a tiny stone for her brother, a larger one for herself, a very pretty one for her mother, and so forth; and when it came time to distinguish the Uncle Paul on her mother’s side from the Uncle Paul who was her father’s brother, she decided to affix some yellow yarn to one of the stones in order to designate the blond Uncle Paul. And on it went.
When Margie arrived next morning, she already had a second draft, though she wouldn’t yet allow to me see it, for she felt it needed further polishing. Meanwhile, I took two photos of Maureen with her presentation. After two more drafts, Margie was done. Fortunately, I knew Tony Kallett, the editor of a small but important periodical devoted to capturing what really goes on between teachers and their students, and Margie’s piece was immediately accepted. It was her first published piece and my first (and only) published photograph.
First, Margie's act of listening to Maureen. How easy would it have been to engage Maureen then transition to something else. Rather, Margie sat down and worked with Maureen for a long time, long enough for Maureen to find her footing in the classroom. Margie listened closely to each of Maureen's requests, for the correct length of hair, for just the right specialness of each rock.
Second, Charles' act of listening to Margie. He heard in her voice that this was an important moment and not only suggested that she record it, he cleared the space and time for her to record. How must this act of writing supported Margie in recognizing the importance of her moment of listening to Maureen?
Neither of these moments are earth-shattering, but both could be considered life-changing. This is Hawkins' idea of eolithism - giving that weight to the moments that are already happening.
Happy New Year! May we all give space for our eoliths this year.