“One of Tetzlaff’s most striking technical gifts is an ability to project extremely soft sounds in a large hall; it’s like whispering in a way so that two thousand people can still hear you.” (from Jeremy Eichler’s profile of violin soloist Christian Tetzlaff)

I spent part of yesterday afternoon with a pair of siblings who reminded me how different the likes of vitality and engagement can look on two people.  These siblings are close in age, and spend much of their daily lives together, immersed in the things that mean and matter the most to them. Their days are full of physical and intellectual activity, of participation in the upkeep of their home and the feeding of their family and neighbors. It’s clear that they’re fully and eagerly engaged, but they wear it two entirely different ways. The one is often exclaiming and grinning, the pleasure or victory of a task written plainly and unmistakably on her face.  The other’s contentment lights him up more subtly, though he seems no less delighted and peaceful in his work.

I’ve always found vitality difficult to describe, but fairly easy to recognize.  What I realized yesterday is that if I’m too attached to my know-it-when-I-see-it notions of what it looks like, I might miss it.  The same is true of the absence of vitality – where resignation and lethargy live.  All are worth watching for, and worth being careful to hone our understanding of.  Even if children aren’t making a fuss, aren’t actively resisting or locking horns with us about the content of their lives, there may well be more available to them in the way of fulfillment and engagement.

I guess there’s more than one way to be pretty much any particular thing.  Being around these two children reminded me of that, and of how much inspiration is available in vitality however it comes – in big audible grins or in bright, whispering, eyes.


2 Responses

  1. Oh this is just a beautiful post. Thank you.

  2. This is so true. In fact, I’ve noticed those children who aren’t overtly emotional, either when they’re happy or sad, are most often the children who don’t get their needs met. That’s how I was growing up. I wouldn’t put up a fuss if I needed someone to help me or explain something to me again and they wouldn’t, or I wouldn’t outwardly get excited about things, so people assumed they weren’t important to me and just stopped doing them for me. It’s so important to really be in tune with how our kids think and feel. That can’t be done in a 25 kid classroom.

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