Starting last Monday, I have been mentoring a lovely girl named Lucia twice a week at a local elementary school in Berkeley. The first day I met her, she waved her arms frantically at me, exuding a refreshing burst of energy. As we sat in her cooking class, she rambled on about her life: her little sister, her favorite color, her favorite games, the nicknames for her classmates, amongst other topics. When the class was over, she picked up my bag and paraded around the school, discussing in intricate detail her tenth birthday party. With great pride, she taught me how to pronounce words like ‘glitter’ and ‘dazzle' in Spanish. To conclude our session, she rallied a group of friends for an impromptu game of tag, in which they all chased me throughout the school grounds, zigzagging around trash cans and shrubbery. There was no structure to the game — T.O. could be called whenever and for however long, anything material qualified as base, and there were no restrictions to how many people at a time were ‘it.’ It was essentially running.
In this interaction, Lucia taught me the innocence of unstructured play -- the pursuit of happiness without recognition of the actual pursuit. Lucia's ramblings never included a pause, an over-obsession of considerate manners or courteousness or etiquette. She showed a feeling of self-confidence and self-pride, though never a mention or demonstration of the active cognizance of this feeling. She was happy to be happy, and it was as simple as that.
The next time I saw Lucia, we worked on her math homework. It’s surprisingly daunting trying to explain to an elementary schooler concepts such as double-digit decimal multiplication, which requires numerous steps that really have no other explanation besides ’it is what it is.’ Amidst the commotion of an elementary school classroom, it was not only hard for her to focus on learning, but also for me to focus on teaching. But each time she finished one step of a problem, her face would light up and she felt encouraged to continue. As during our previous session, Lucia’s energy came in surges. At times, she would become so distracted that finding a pencil was a hard task, while at other times, she could quickly grasp concepts I felt I hadn’t adequately explained to her.
Lucia is constantly wondering what is happening in her surroundings, choosing to do so over focusing on the task at hand. And while, as a tutor, this behavior can become frustrating, I most definitely can relate to her experiences. Throughout my time in school, I have always been distracted. Friends can attest to my tendency to gaze towards the back of a classroom whithout even realizing I wasn’t facing the front anymore.
Inattentiveness in classrooms has always been chastised. The perfect student in a traditional school setting is one who is quiet and subservient, listening to the teacher’s instructions and completing work in a timely manner. It is this tunnel vision, however, that also restricts people from seeing a world around them beyond that which is self-centric. I’ve preached the resolve that inattentiveness is in a sense, merely a demonstration of curiosity. It is a profound concern with the nature of things, with the interactions of beings.
There are times when focus is necessary to finish a task at hand. But this act of ‘doing’ should not be mutually exclusive with the act of ‘thinking.’ As humans, we have the power of thought, of consideration why we do the things we do for reasons other than that we must do them. The innocence of a girl like Lucia is a reminder that there is more to the world than an almost robotic completion of a list of tasks. It is my personal opinion that we don’t dedicate enough time to observing the world, at least without the subconscious guilt of finishing what we must.
Lucia is an emblem of happiness, a reminder of the feeling of contentedness in merely being that we so often try to compensate for with satisfaction in checking off an item on our to-do lists. We can learn a lot from people like her.